Since its first appearance in the early 1990s, the pink ribbon has become an iconic symbol of the search for a cure for breast cancer. Companies from Ford to KitchenAid to TicTac have pledged to donate part of the proceeds from certain products—known as “pink-ribbon” products—for research on a disease that strikes 200,000 American women a year.
But the San Francisco-based advocacy organization Breast Cancer Action (BCA) is concerned that some companies with pink-ribbon promotions in fact donate very little—or nothing. “It’s rare that we stumble on a complete scam,” says Executive Director Barbara Brenner—but it does happen. For instance, she says, “you see pink-ribbon magnets on the back of cars, and often those magnets are sold for private profit, and the money doesn’t go to breast cancer at all.”
Some pink promotions are simply misleading, Brenner says. Companies may use them to boost their images and sales, but they’re deliberately vague about where the money goes or how much they’ll donate to the cause.
“We often come across companies that just say, ‘A percentage of this product is going to breast cancer research,’ ” without specifying the amount or which organization will benefit, says Robbie Finke, director of marketing for the nonprofit Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), which raised roughly $15 million through pink partnerships last year. “If you don’t know where the money’s going to, don’t buy the product.”
Breast Cancer Action, which developed the Think Before You Pink campaign to push companies to be more transparent and accountable in selling pink-ribbon products, suggests that consumers ask the following questions before buying:
Where does the money go and how will it be used? If a program or charity isn’t listed on the product, contact the manufacturer and find out where the money is going. Charity-rating organizations, such as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, can tell you more about the recipient group and how it uses donations.
What percentage of the sale price is donated? If the pink product doesn’t clearly state how much, check with the breast cancer organization that will benefit. BCRF, for instance, lists the pink products—from candles to shoes to vitamins—that its corporate partners offer and what percentage of each sale they’ll donate. You can get similar information from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website, or by calling 1-877-465-6636.
You may also want to find if the company caps the donation it will make. If it does, there’s a chance the green from your pink purchase won’t go toward breast cancer at all.
Is the company really committed to the cause? Look out for “pinkwashers”—companies that purport to care about breast cancer by using pink-ribbon promotions but sell products that may be linked to breast cancer, such as foods containing growth hormones. BCA’s Brenner encourages people to state their objections. “Consumers drive a lot of what companies do,” she says.
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