Pinkwashing (breast cancer)

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Picture of a Pink ribbon

Pinkwashing is a form of cause marketing that uses a pink ribbon logos. The companies display the pink ribbon logo on products that are known to cause different types of cancer to the user. The Pink ribbon logo symbolizes support for breast cancer-related charities or foundations.[1]

The term 'pinkwashing' is associated with companies that use the pink ribbon symbol or use the support of breast cancer charities as a marketing technique, to promote one of their products, while at the same time manufactured products have proven to contain ingredients, that are linked to the disease developed or are used in a manner that associates it with the increased risk of disease.

Origin of the 'pink ribbon'[edit]

The 'pink ribbon' first originated from a woman named Charlotte Hayley in 1992. Charlotte hand made and dispensed peach colored ribbons with informational cards that read " The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5% goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and Americans by wearing this ribbon".[2] Companies such as Susan G. Komen had used the ribbon but the ribbons became most popular when Esteé Lauder agreed to place the bright pink ribbon on all the products across the United States.


To detect 'pinkwashing' some questions to ask are "How much money is going to breast cancer research?, What company will get the funds?, and Does the companies mission reflect the marketing done?"[3]

As the largest organization monetizing breast cancer, Susan G. Komen Foundation and its licensing of a proprietary trademark is running the "pink ribbon" logo and slogan on a wide range of products. It has drawn close scrutiny over 'pinkwashing' products.

One of NBCAM's largest supporters is the Astra Zeneca Health Care Foundation. "Since the Foundation began, it has supported NBCAM's goals of public awareness, public education, knowledge sharing, and greater access to services in the fight against breast cancer".[4] However, some scholars question the true intentions of Astra Zeneca; in P. C. Pezzullos' article, "Resisting National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: The Rhetoric of Counter public and their Cultural Performances". The Toxic Links Coalition (TLC) disapproves of Astra Zeneca being NBCAM's initial supporter. For this reason, "TLC emphasizes the importance of stopping the production of carcinogenic toxic chemicals" (Pezzullo, p. 353). Komen promotions which have drawn criticism include Houston-based fracking equipment and vendor Baker Hughes, who sponsored $100,000 for a campaign with the tagline, "Doing their bit for a cure".[5] Opponents insist that hydraulic fracturing extracts oil and gas, using a mixture of water and chemicals, including known or possible carcinogens.[6] Similar concerns have been raised about automobile manufacturers as sponsors,[7] as vehicle exhaust contains carcinogens.[8]

Komens' own "Promise Me" perfume has also drawn Breast Cancer Action, as the label fails to disclose that the product contains galaxolide and toluene.[9]

The "pinkwashing" issue is not limited to Komen and its sponsors. In 2007, the Estée Lauder Pink Ribbon Collection series used a donation to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) to promote products containing parabens, chemicals linked to breast cancer. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration had connected 5-Hour Energy drinks, a caffeinated energy shot promoted using a Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) sponsorship as cause marketing, to thirteen deaths and serious injuries, including heart attacks.[10]

In 2008, Think Before You Pink launched an online campaign against Yoplait, the national sponsor of Susan G. Komen's annual walk. Their pink-lidded yogurt was sold to raise money for breast cancer but was made from dairy containing the hormone rBGH or rBST (recombinant bovine growth hormone or recombinant bovine somatotrophin). With enough pressure from the public, General Mills (the manufacture of Yoplait) pledged to go rBGH free.[11]

In 2010, Komen partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) briefly on a "Buckets for a Cure" campaign. In response, Breast Cancer Action launched the "What's the Cluck?" campaign,[1] arguing that, although Komen's intentions may have been to promote KFC's new grilled chicken and vegetable meals, the same pink buckets held fried chicken, which can be attributed to high-fat diets linked to cancer risk and diseases. Komen contested and saw the marketing as effective because they were able to reach women who were not brought in by other advertisements in their neighbourhoods, like the billboards or the spokesperson at their church.[12] According to Komen, KFC's pink buckets of chicken helped raise $4 million, and "money from partnerships such as this allowed Komen to provide screening mammograms to 600,000 women last year".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Think Before You Pink » What the Cluck?!".
  2. ^ "History of the Pink Ribbon". Breast Cancer Action. Retrieved 2022-10-10.
  3. ^ "The Dangers of Pinkwashing: How to Spot When Companies Are Exploiting Breast Cancer for Profit". Good Housekeeping. 2022-02-17. Retrieved 2022-10-13.
  4. ^ "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month".
  5. ^ "Women's health advocates denounce Komen Foundation's partnership with Baker Hughes". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  6. ^ "Komen is supposed to be curing breast cancer. So why is its pink ribbon on so many carcinogenic products?". Washington Post.
  7. ^ ABC News. "Pink Washing Is Real and It Hurts [Commentary]". ABC News.
  8. ^ Hobson, Katherine (7 December 2011). "IOM Report Has Familiar List of Known Breast Cancer Risks". WSJ.
  9. ^ "Raise a Stink!".
  10. ^ "Breast Cancer Awareness Month Brings the Usual 'Pinkwashing' and Unethical Cause-Marketing Partnerships". The Huffington Post. 22 October 2014.
  11. ^ "Think Before You Pink » Yoplait: Put A Lid On It". Retrieved 2015-12-09.
  12. ^ Westervelt, Amy. "The Pinkwashing Debate: Empty Criticism or Serious Liability?". Forbes.
  13. ^ "Komen's pink ribbons raise lots of green, many questions; Survivors, groups ask world's largest charity fighting breast cancer to be more sensitive", USA TODAY' July 18, 2011.

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