If you've shopped at all this month, you've likely come across dozens (if not hundreds) of pink-ribbon products. These items raise money for various breast cancer research groups; Estee Lauder alone is donating $500,000 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation this year. But with all of the pink-ribboned offerings, how can you choose wisely?
The people behind health-advocacy group Breast Cancer Action are going strong with their Think Before You Pink project, which wants shoppers to think twice before buying these items — particularly when it comes to cosmetic products, as the group believes that some ingredients in cosmetics are carcinogenic. In a thought-provoking interview, Breast Cancer Action Communications Director Richard Leiter touches on the group's goals.
Do you think companies behind these products are sincere about fighting breast cancer, or is this just a way for some of them to look charitable and improve their image while raking in profits?
We have no way to evaluate the motivations of any cause-marketer except to look at the nature of their contribution. Is the mechanism for contributing transparent? Is the total contribution substantial? Do they make it easy for consumers to see where the dollars are actually going? If a company is contributing a very small portion of their sales, then they're probably more interested in profits than progress.
Who are some of the worst “pinkwashers” in the cosmetics industry, and why?
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics publishes a list of cosmetics companies who have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Currently, none of the major cosmetics companies — including Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Mary Kay — have signed the compact. And these four all engage in pink-ribbon marketing.
To find out which companies the campaign does like,
If shoppers wish to support breast cancer research, how should they approach pink-ribbon products?
We urge shoppers to examine each product to make sure that a sufficient percentage of the purchase price does indeed go to breast cancer research (or services, or education or treatment — which all require funds.) Even more importantly, they should make sure that the pink-ribbon products they support don't cause breast cancer.
Within the beauty/cosmetics industry, which BCA products get the thumbs-up?
Our Think Before You Pink website lists companies who have gone paraben-free. We think that's a good start.
What are some of the successes the campaign has had? What would you like to see in the future?
The "Think Before You Pink" campaign led to the California Safe Cosmetics Bill in 2004, encouraged Avon to begin reformulating some of its products, and most recently focused considerable consumer attention on Yoplait yogurt's "pinkwashing". They require you to eat a hundred containers of yogurt and mail in the lids just to contribute 10 bucks. Doesn't it make more sense just to send a check?
A greater worry: Yoplait is made from milk that comes from rBGH-injected cows. rBGH has been linked to breast cancer and other cancers. We'd like to see General Mills join Wal-Mart, Starbucks and all of Europe in using rBGH-free dairy.
One more result: We've seen other breast cancer groups begin to urge their membership to ask tough questions of manufacturers and demand transparency.
Let me play devil’s advocate: Isn’t it better for some money to be donated to breast cancer groups than to have none donated at all?
Individuals and corporations will continue to donate to breast cancer. It might actually be better for that money to be donated directly to the most promising research and most needed services - rather than allowing a marketing department, which may not be fully informed or motivated, to make that choice. Another danger in feel-good cause-marketing is that consumers may get the impression the breast cancer is cured or almost cured and that's far from the truth. The end to the epidemic will come only when profound environmental and societal shifts occur.
The jury is out on whether phthalates and parabens are causational, correlative, or unrelated to the development of cancer. Why should women be concerned if the evidence isn’t completely in?
The stakes are so high — and the consumer alternatives are so abundant. Isn't it better to be safe than sorry?