The Power of the Pink Ribbon

The Power of the Pink Ribbon

Breast cancer is horrific. There’s simply no but about it. With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in full swing, there are constant reminders of how many people in North America have been affected by the ravaging disease. It seems that if you haven’t suffered from it directly, odds are, you’re a degree of separation from it.

In the face of such an assaulting epidemic, many of us gravitate to doing something - anything - that might help put an end to the disease. And more and more that ‘something’ is handed to us wrapped nicely in the iconic pink ribbon.

Bottles of shampoo, tubes of lipstick, bunches of bananas, packs of yogurt, even a bucket of KFC chicken. Marketers have discovered the emotive power of that pink sash when it comes to getting us to buy. Sadly, they’ve slapped the ribbon on a number of products that have been linked to the disease.

That’s right, the very same companies that promote themselves as champions in the fight against breast cancer make products that contain cancer-causing substances. Welcome ladies and gents to the era of pinkwashing.

Just this morning, as I stepped off the subway, still blurry eyed and to be honest, a bit cranky, I was confronted by such a pinkwashing-offender. Ten or so volunteers were shaking cans of change asking for donations for breast cancer research. The squad of them wore aprons bearing the pink ribbon alongside the Avon logo.

I made a beeline through the crowd and straight to the office, and opened the Skin Deep database, which quickly confirmed my suspicions. The supposed champion in the fight against breast cancer produces cosmetics that contain known carcinogens and reproductive toxins associated with cancer. Of the 1,106 ingredients used by Avon, I counted 54 that have been linked to cancer including BHA and BHT.

Despite having raised millions for breast cancer research through their sponsored events and sale of pink ribbon products, Avon’s pink halo is largely undeserved if you ask me. And they aren’t the only ones.

Revlon’s Walk/Run for Women has similarly raised millions of dollars for breast cancer research through their sponsored events and sale of pink ribbon products, all the while their products continue to contain carcinogens that are ravaging women’s bodies.

Even Dole’s pink ribbon produce is raising eyebrows in the wake of accusations and lawsuits from plantation workers who are blaming high incidences of cancer on pesticide exposure.

So what’s a well-intentioned breast cancer crusader to do? For me, the first step is to avoid buying any pinked-out products that increase my exposure to toxins. Companies guilty of such offenses land squarely on my boycott list - sorry KFC, you're there.

Think Before You Pink has a full list of suggestions, as well as a whole whack of resources to help you discern the genuinely pink from the pinkwashed. The goal isn’t to stop supporting those companies that are truly taking a stance against the epidemic, just those taking advantage of our desire to do good while in fact perpetuating the crisis.

October 9, 2012