Pinkwashing: Companies’ double standards on breast cancer
- Published: 18 April 2010
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Some companies promote their concern about breast cancer by labelling their products as ‘pink’, but still manufacture products containing ingredients that have been linked to the disease. Sarah Hannah Fisher has no time for ‘pinkwashing’.
Breast cancer was once a disease belonging to women of post-menopausal age but now it strikes women in their 20s and 30s and the risk of getting breast cancer is higher than it has ever been before. Why?
More than half of breast cancer cases can’t be explained by any of the known risk factors such as genetics, diet or reproductive history. There is growing evidence that the explanation lies in the environment around us: breast cancer rates are higher in industrialised countries than those in the developing world.
The increase in breast cancer cases also mirrors that of the abundance of man-made chemicals since World War II. It is no secret that personal grooming and house cleaning products contain chemicals that have been proven to be cancerous.
You may think that the minimal amount of carcinogenic ingredients in your lipstick is nothing to worry about. But add that in with all the exposure you get every single day from chemicals found in industrial solvents, pesticides, dyes, pharmaceuticals and other cosmetics and it all adds up.
A large number of cosmetic companies and brands have ‘gone pink’ – labelling their products as contributing towards breast cancer research. So, we will switch to a pink deodorant when our current one runs out, thinking we are helping the cause. But are we?
The blog Pinkwashing says describes the term ‘pinkwashing’ as the practice of a company that promotes its concern about breast cancer by labelling its product as pink, while at the same time continuing to manufature products containing ingredients that have been linked to the disease.
Skin Deep is an invaluable resource to anyone who is concerned about the prevalence of chemicals in our cosmetic and personal grooming products, researching the toxicity levels of more than 160,000 products.
Two of the major cosmetics companies that promote pink ribbon products – Avon and Estee Lauder – earn a toxicity level of 9 or above, reports Skin Deep.
Both companies make products containing suspected carcinogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals, as does Dove. There is currently no law requiring cosmetic companies to disclose their use of chemicals that have known links to cancer.
They will defend themselves, by saying they use only such a small amount, it isn’t relevant, but think about how many products you are exposed to over the course of your lifetime.
In addition, some critical questions need to be asked. How much money from your purchase is actually being given towards breast cancer? Is 50 cents from every $100 worth it, or is any amount better than nothing? What about capped donations?
The website Think Before You Pink, which aims to to raise awareness about pinkwashing, reveals that Give Hope Jeans, sold for $88, donated “net proceeds” from the sale to the organisation Living Beyond Breast Cancer. But they capped their contributions at $200,000. Once they had reached the $200,000 limit they stopped contributing, no matter how many pairs of jeans were purchased.
Your purchase may not have made a difference. And this is a common occurrence.
The sad fact is many companies will choose to promote breast cancer because it is safe. It is a way for them to bond with their target market: women.
There has been endless research proving that most consumers would switch from a particular brand or product to one associated with a good cause if they remained the same cost and quality.
By linking themselves to breast cancer, a company is not alienating their audience because of their lifestyle, status or sexual connotations. Every single person has a mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, female friend. Every single person loves someone at risk.
So why don’t these companies just stop producing products containing harmful chemicals? There is, after all, an inordinate amount of alternative ingredients proven to be safe.
The answer is simple: No matter how much a company markets itself as caring about its consumers, it is still a corporate company in a billion-dollar industry that cares about one thing – profit.
So it’s down to consumers to take action. Buy products that contain as few synthetic ingredients as possible. Do not blindly assume that companies who market themselves as ‘caring’ really are. Don’t fall for their pinkwash.
Sarah Hannah Fisher is a 25-year-old writer from Sydney. A passionate animal rights activist, she also loves writing about the relationships between fashion, pop culture, body image, mental illness and the media. She has worked for beauty website Primped and her work has appeared in various publications. You are most likely to find her asleep under her doona covers dreaming about Wonderland or voicing her opinions through her blog, Death Wears Diamond Jewellery.