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How to avoid being scammed — and pinkwashed — during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Marie Claire magazine offers a warning as we approach Breast Cancer Awareness Month (otherwise known as October):

Think before you buy — or donate to — pink.

That’s because another name for Breast Cancer Awareness Month could be Scam Artist month.

Think before you pink.
Think before you pink.

Writes reporter Lea Goldman:

“‘There is a lot of deception that goes on with breast cancer groups,’ says Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, a Chicago-based nonprofit watchdog group. One problem, he says, is that breast cancer charities are often run by well-meaning but inexperienced survivors or relatives who duplicate the efforts of established organizations. They use donor dollars to print their own educational brochures, though they certainly exist elsewhere; they organize events to promote awareness — ‘Skydive to End Breast Cancer!’ — then blow too much of their funds getting these events off the ground. There’s no requirement of a college degree or business experience to run a charity. You don’t even need a clean legal record.

Nor are the individuals running the hundreds of breast-cancer charities in the United States (usually with very official-sounding names) necessarily well meaning. As Goldman details in her article, many of the people who have set up these so-called charities give themselves and their family members hefty salaries while spending very, very little on cancer-related efforts.

“All these groups that have sprouted up around the country have diffused the attention to breast cancer,” Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, told Goldman. “They take up dollars and put them into little pots all across the country. They take away from the efforts that can — and do — make a difference. They should all be focused on putting themselves out of business.”

Think before you pink
The Marie Claire article doesn’t mention another troubling issue that surfaces each October: corporate “pinkwashing” — the positioning of a company as a leader in the fight to eradicate breast cancer while it continues to sell products that may actually promote breast cancer. As I pointed out last October in Second Opinion, these efforts have many breast cancer survivors seeing red.

Breast Cancer Action has launched a “Think Before You Pink” campaign to help make sure you’re not being scammed during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here are five questions they recommend you ask yourself before you purchase anything labeled “breast cancer pink” next month:

1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer? Is the amount clearly stated on the package?

When the package does state the amount of the donation, is that amount enough? … If you can’t tell how much money is being donated, or if you don’t think it’s enough, give directly to the organization instead.

2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?

Many companies place a cap on the amount of money that will be donated. … In some cases, that cap is a generous amount. In some cases it’s not. But you should know that, whenever there is a cap, your individual purchase may not contribute anything to the cause, depending on when you shop and whether the cap has already been met.

3. How are the funds being raised?

Does making the purchase ensure a contribution to the cause? Or do you, the shopper, have to jump through hoops [such as going to a website and purchasing something else] to make sure the money gets where it’s supposed to go?

4. To what breast-cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?

Does the product’s package tell you where the money goes and what will be done with it? … Will the money go to fund the same studies that have been ongoing for decades (which already get enormous financial support)? Or will it go to under-funded, innovative research into the causes of breast cancer? If the donation is going to breast cancer services, is it reaching the people most in need, in the most effective way?

5. What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast-cancer epidemic?

Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that are linked to the disease. Breast Cancer Action calls these companies “pinkwashers.” BMW, for example, gives $1 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure each time you test-drive one of their cars, even though pollutants found in car exhaust are linked to breast cancer. Many cosmetics companies whose products contain chemicals linked to breast cancer also sell their items for the cause.

For more details about all the issues raised by these questions, see the Breast Cancer Action website.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Pat McGee on 09/19/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    Just don’t pink. Seriously, no offense to breast cancer patients, but the whole Pink month and merchandising is out of control. It’s not the only cancer out there deserving of research support. Breast Cancer Awareness Day would be quite sufficient and give 364 days for others.

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