Why We Think Pink Ribbon Is A Pinkwashing Scam

Many well meaning people donate to it, especially in October. But here’s why we think the Pink Ribbon is a scam!  In other words, they’re pinkwashing. Here’s why

By Jody McCutcheon

In most countries around the world this October, women will be joining with their female friends and family to participate in 5k runs, wearing pink. Some may purchase ‘pink ribbon’ branded products to help raise money for Breast Cancer. After all, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But many responsible journalists and watchdog groups such as Think Before You Pink and the Better Business Bureau have recently raised some important questions about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and even cancer charities in general. Namely, how can consumerism, inextricably linked to environmental destruction, help cure a disease? Isn’t it a hypocritical to buy products that are thought to cause cancer, to fight cancer? And where do the hundreds of millions of dollars raised for cancer go to, exactly?

A Canadian film, Pink Ribbon, Inc., has also inspired many to think about the big business behind the Pink Ribbon campaign, including us here at Eluxe. And what we found out has been quite shocking.

Why We Think Pink Ribbon Is A Scam

Why We Think Pink Ribbon Is A Scam

1. Pink products can just mean more profits

The main reason we think the Pink Ribbon is a scam is because in some cases, it actually is. Researching this article, for example, we discovered that some companies are actually keeping all the money you spend on their products for themselves. Yep, that’s right!

Apparently, there’s no law against slapping a pink ribbon on any given product in October and selling it for profit. The company isn’t lying, exactly. They’re just exploiting the trust of the consumer that the money will go towards cancer research. But it may well not. Some companies just say their Pink Ribbon branding is ‘to further awareness.’ This is basically called ’cause marketing’. That is, using people’s concern about a cause to sell a product. Even if the sale of that product does nothing to further the cause.

I mean, ask yourself: is that cute little pink ribbon on your hairspray bottle really going to motivate you to check your breasts for lumps?

2. Companies that harm your health want to ‘cure’ you

Cause marketing is bad enough. But when it’s used by some companies that are blatantly potentially harmful to human health, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Estee Lauder and Smith and Wesson guns, well, that’s just too much. Making a product look like it cares about breast health, when it’s actually probably harming humans, is called pinkwashing. And that’s another reason why we think Pink Ribbon is a scam.

Sure, these companies may have donated some money to cancer charities. But does it make any sense to sell a product that probably harm your health, and then donate funds towards making you well? If these cosmetic giants like Estee Lauder really cared about the breast cancer epidemic, wouldn’t it make more sense to phase out harmful ingredients like parabens, octinoxate, ‘fragrance’, phthalates (linked directly to some forms of breast cancer), BHT and a potentially lethal cocktail of others, instead of raising money for cancer research?

Before you buy something because you think it’s helping cure breast cancer, ask yourself:

  • How are the funds being raised? Is it through the sale of cosmetics that contain chemicals suspected to cause cancer? Via a tournament on a golf course sprayed with pesticides? Is $1 being given each mile you test-drive a polluting car? Don’t let “pinkwashing” corporations exploit your good intentions by positioning themselves as leaders in the struggle against breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease.

Pink Ribbon is a scam


3. The funds raised may go towards dubious sources

Estee Lauder is perhaps the business most associated with the Pink Ribbon. And many aren’t happy with that.

That’s because 25 years ago, there was no Pink Ribbon. But there was a peach one, started by grassroots activist Charlotte Haley. This focused mainly on taking political action towards cancer prevention. However, Peach Ribbon campaigners claim Estée Lauder and the Susan G Komen Foundation hijacked the idea. They turned the peach ribbon pink, and shifted the focus to marketing, awareness….and corporate gain.

Estee Lauder and their associates, the Susan G Komen Foundation, are fully transparent in how their funds are being spent. And most of those funds raised from the Pink Ribbon went into the pockets of big pharma, already worth billions. Specifically, AstraZenica.

These donations go towards paying for expensive genome research, pharmaceutical drug creation and high tech medical treatments by researchers that are already well funded. And why do they get so much funding? Well, because whatever treatments they discover will be eventually sold back to the generously donating public…at a great profit. Obviously.

Moving away from the topic of Big Pharma, let’s talk about cancer charities. This is another reason we think the Pink Ribbon is a scam. Many of the largest ones involve huge infrastructures with PR and HR teams, loads of admins and very well paid CEOs. In fact, in some cases, up to over 40% of donations go towards keeping that infrastructure going. And the biggest charities can have annual operating expenses of over $500m!

So before you give your money away to a company that claims to be aiming at ending breast cancer, ask yourself:

  • What types of programs are being supported? If research, what kind? Is focused on prevention, or on expensive technological/pharmaceutical cures designed to make the company more profits? How much money is going towards paying the (surprisingly high) salaries of charity administrators and their PR/marketing companies?

4. Is it really making an improvement?

Maybe the most jaw-dropping reason we think the Pink Ribbon is a scam is this. Despite billions of dollars being spent over several years on a ‘search for the cure’ and despite years of laboratory research aimed at discovering new treatments and drugs, the 5 year survival rates for breast cancer remain almost utterly unchanged since the 1970s. What? How is that even possible? How could fifty years of research and funding not have improved this?

Clearly, it’s time for a shift of perspective here. We should be first focusing on funding more natural, holistic cures, rather than expensive ‘techno/scientific’ ones. We also need to examine and give more funding to the role pesticides, pollutants and plastics play in generating cancer cells in our bodies.

5. How to make a difference

There’s no doubt that breast cancer is affecting the lives of millions of women around the world. And of course, there are also millions of people who want to help those women. So, what’s the best way forward?

In my opinion, raising money is still a great idea. Those suffering with cancer need our support. But Big Pharma? Not so much.

Why not raise money for a charity that donates wigs to those who have lost their hair, due to chemotherapy? Or one that delivers healthy meals to those who can’t find the energy to cook after their cancer treatments? There are also organisations that help with the finances of people undergoing cancer treatment who can’t work.

Or, maybe instead of donating to a cancer charity, giving to an environmental one could be just as effective. After all, prevention is always better than a cure, right?

Other Sources Used and Further Reading

Do you agree the Pink Ribbon is a scam? We’d love to hear from you in the comments, below!

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4 thoughts on “Why We Think Pink Ribbon Is A Pinkwashing Scam”

  1. I am not a reader of Eluxe, but this article is the best example of journalism I have read in, I can’t even begin to think how long. Short, accurate and to the point. I will be using this in class with my students all week!

    1. Thanks Nathan! Hope that makes you a new reader of Eluxe, too! (I reckon we have some great articles in the Magazine/Articles section you’ll love…check out the one on News Sites to trust, for example!)

  2. Thank you, a million times thank you for having the courage to raise this vital issue. As a breast cancer survivor I said exactly these things 8 years ago in a local paper article in Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately my words were completely misinterpreted and I was made to look like a revolutionary villain for questioning Breast Cancer awareness. Thank goodness times are a changing and others are questioning the validity of Pinkness. Yes Corporates use Pink to sell their products, yes there are holistic treatments out there and most importantly, yes, women should be educated on eating and living healthy rather than encouraged to use products or eat/consume foods/drinks associated with Pink that often contain exactly the chemicals they should be avoiding. Again – thank you!!

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