Beware the Pinkwash! 4 Reasons Why We Think Pink Ribbon, Inc. Is A Scam

By Chere Di Boscio and Diane Small

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.


1. Pink products can just mean more profits

Researching this article, for example, we discovered that some companies are actually keeping all the money you spend on their products for themselves. 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 – it may well not. Some companies just say their pink ribbon branding is ‘to further awareness.’ Caveat Emptor!

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

Some companies that are blatantly harmful to human health–such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Estee Lauder (many of their top selling products are loaded with nasty chemicals) and Smith and Wesson guns have also used what’s now known as ’cause marketing’ or ‘pinkwashing’ to sell their products over Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sure, they may have donated some money to cancer charities, but does it make any sense to sell a product that may 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 ingredients like parabens, phthalates (both 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? Is it through 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.



3. The funds raised may go towards dubious sources

Estee Lauder is fully transparent in how their funds are being spent; most of the funds raised from the Pink Ribbon goes 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 public at a great profit for the companies who were so charitably funded to find them. It’s not very surprising, then, to learn that the company responsible for making October ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ month was AstraZeneca, one of the the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. Before you give your money away to a company that claims to be supporting breast cancer research, ask yourself:

  • What types of programs are being supported? If research, what kind? Is it being done at major institutions that already have huge financial support? Is the money going towards paying the surprisingly high salaries of charity administrators and their PR/marketing companies? For example, did you know the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, Harpal Kumar, earns up to £240,000 a year? That salary is, of course, paid at least in part by public donations – and that figure doesn’t even include the salaries of other employees and related contractors.


4. Is it really making an improvement?

Maybe the most jaw-dropping fact we discovered when researching this issue was 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.

Clearly,  it’s time for a shift of perspective here, focusing on holistic cures, rather than ‘scientific’ ones, and examining the role pollutants and plastics play in generating cancer cells in our bodies. 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.

Diane Small

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4 years ago

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!

Chere Di Boscio
4 years ago
Reply to  Nathan

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!)

Judith Treanor
4 years ago

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!!

Chere Di Boscio
4 years ago
Reply to  Judith Treanor

Thanks so much for your comments, Judith. Glad more people are waking up to this! And also glad you made it through such a horrible illness. We’re on your side! xx