Monday, October 20, 2014

Taking Aim at Pinkwashing

By Rose Strong


It’s mid-October and those awful pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness are splattered everywhere. Everyone is wearing pink, from the high school football players to the check-out person at your local grocery store. Oh, and don’t get me started on the retail industry!

Perhaps I need to give a disclosure here. My partner of 28 years was diagnosed in 1997 with stage-three ductal carcinoma, in the left breast. She had a mastectomy with the removal of lymph nodes, chemotherapy, became bald for several months and was declared cancer free, but took Tamoxifen as a preventative against recurrence for five years.

After five years of no cancer, you’re in what they call “the safe zone,” a sort of milestone. It’s rare for the breast cancer to return after that time. In 2010, her cancer returned. We have lived with metastatic breast cancer as a chronic illness every day for the past four years, but thanks to the pharmaceutical gods, she’s on Arimidex to keep her cancer at bay.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for charitable giving. I’ve worn my share of pink ribbons, walked the charity walks and drove the BMWs for the Drive for the Cure several years in a row since we were given the diagnosis 17 years ago. I donate whenever I can, both locally and globally to those charities which make an impact, little by little as my pocketbook will allow.

However, businesses that put a pink ribbon marketing program into effect for the cure of breast cancer simply for the purpose of gaining a new demographic and more dollars make me seethe with rage. It’s been termed “pinkwashing” by Breast Cancer Action, a group that considers itself the watchdog of breast cancer charities.

The latest pinkwashing to make news is the recent “partnership” the Susan G. Komen Foundation has formed with Baker Hughes, the international hydraulic fracturing, or fracking company. The corporation is going to distribute 1,000 drill bits to be used for fracking as part of the project, “Doing Our Bit for the Cure.”

As you can imagine, it’s not gone over well. Fracking waste is known to carry carcinogens and has been shown to contaminate public water supplies and the air.

The Komen Foundation is not the only one in the industry to resort to pinkwashing. So, while you’re shopping for groceries, new bath towels, or running shoes, how do you know that your purchase of their product emblazoned with a pink ribbon is really donating money to a worthy cause? It’s hard to say exactly, but after reading this article by Amy McCarthy for Bustle.com, it would be hard not to be cynical.

Who’s Doing the Watching?

How do you find out about the charities accepting donations for breast cancer research and advocacy? Well, since breast cancer is only one drop in a bucketful of charities that need our financial support, here are a few sites that help sort out the good, the bad and the ugly:

  • Check out Guidestar.com, a comprehensive website that allows you to research any charity or other nonprofit before you donate. The site gives information on how to choose a charity, give to one that uses your money judiciously and offers direct reviews from those who have donated or been involved with the charity.
  • BCAction.org is the watchdog of all breast cancer charities. It is blunt and intelligent and questions everything about the breast cancer industry and gets the answers we all need. ThinkBeforeYouPink.org is a project of Breast Cancer Action started in response to the onslaught of pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness.
  • CharityNavigator.org has a page dedicated to giving to charities and the listing of 10 Best Practices of Savvy Donors is excellent.
  • The Better Business Bureau offers a comprehensive 20-point rating system for charities throughout the United States that answer their requests for information.
  • GreatNonProfits.org is another excellent source for finding charities you wish to donate to with positive records for making an impact on the populations they serve. 

Who Meets the Standards?

Since it’s October and awareness is key, I’ve  included only breast cancer organizations here, but several groups above provide information on any charity you’d be interested in within the U.S.

  • National Breast Cancer Foundation works at saving women’s lives by providing mammograms, early detection and education. Since 2005, the organization has provided 340,000 mammograms via its hospital network, especially for women who are uninsured or underinsured who otherwise would go without preventative care.
  • Young Survival Coalition, Inc. is an organization for those under age 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and the special struggles they face.
  • The Breast Cancer Fund strives to educate about and eliminate our risks within our everyday lives by becoming aware of the toxic chemicals surrounding us in our environment.   

If you can get past the sea of pink and the shocking statistics used to pull on your heartstrings, you can be sure your money goes where it’s going to make the best impact, regardless of what charity you’re inclined to support.

I’d enjoy hearing your stories of charitable giving. Do you give at work? Ever drop change in a bucket or do you research the charity of your choice? Let me know in the comments below.

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