Pinkwashing: Supporting the breast cancer cause or promoting a pink ribbon product while producing, manufacturing, and/or selling products linked to the disease. In recent years the definition of pinkwashing has expanded to include any company or organization that profits from breast cancer.

Over the years “Pinkwasher” has become a common term used to describe the hypocrisy and lack of transparency that surrounds Breast Cancer Awareness Month and fundraising. Coined by the group Breast Cancer Action, it is technically defined as a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures, and/or sells products linked to the disease. Today, with the ubiquity of cause-marketing and breast cancer promotions, many use the term to describe anyone who supports the breast cancer cause while profiting from the disease.

Pinkwashing Collage2

Despite the broadening of the definition, Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign, which started in 2002, maintains its focus on those who sell or manufacture pink-ribboned products linked to the disease. Each year Breast Cancer Action evaluates the most egregious pinkwashing examples and selects one campaign to draw public attention to the broader issue and specifically, to call out the hypocrisy of companies profiting from their affiliation with breast cancer while at the same time producing, manufacturing and selling products that are linked to the disease. “It is these entities,” says executive director Karuna Jaggar, “that fail to follow through on their self-proclaimed commitment to the cause of breast cancer, that we target for our campaigns.”

The organization has called out everything from perfumes and body care products with known carcinogens or reproductive toxins to the use and manufacture of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) found in many dairy products and linked to cancer to those now famous Pink Buckets (of chicken) for the Cure. The goals are to:

(1)  Change corporate behavior to demand accountability from specific companies that purport to care about breast cancer;

(2)  Educate consumers about pinkwashing and spread the word about Breast Cancer Action’s “Critical Questions for Conscious Consumers: Think Before you Buy Pink”;

(3)  Raise awareness so that “pinkwashing” corporations aren’t able to exploit good intentions by positioning themselves as leaders in the struggle against breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease.

Pinkwashing Collage

Toxic Time is Up

In 2013, Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign raised the stakes even higher. Instead of calling out specific pinkwashers, the group went to one of the key sources of pinkwashing– the lack of regulatory control over toxic chemicals found in everyday products.

Each year corporations sell thousands of pink ribbon products with their own brand of awareness messages and fundraising promises. Yet many of these products contain chemicals linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility, birth defects, and other health problems. Why are these chemicals even on the market? What’s more, how can it be that only about 200 of the over 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have even been tested for human safety at all? Sure, the companies that sell these products, and the charities that partner with them, need to be held accountable for their part in the pinkwashing epidemic. But what about the regulatory agencies that allow these chemicals to be used in the first place?

toxic-time-is-up-logo_-cropped-300x234Breast Cancer Action’s Toxic Time Is Up campaign calls on The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to overhaul and update the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which has not been updated since it was first passed in 1976. A senate hearing in 2009 acknowledged that the act was badly in need of reform, and in 2013 Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D-NJ] introduced a Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009) to reauthorize and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act. As of October 22, 2013, the bill had a 27 percent chance of getting passed the committee and an 11 percent chance of being enacted. Breast Cancer Action hoped to increase the odds of getting the bill passed through the Toxic Time is Up campaign and petition.

The petition

Breast Cancer Action’s Toxic Time is Up campaign urges all of us who care about breast cancer, pinkwashing, and human safety to sign a petition to press for chemical reform and and take the burden off of consumers to find and purchase “safer” products.

In only three weeks, 18,000 people already signed. The online petition is available here. You can also download the campaign brief by clicking here; a hard copy of the petition here; and the campaign press release here.

Say NO to pinkwashing. Share this video. Sign the petition. 18,000 and counting!


Here is a timeline of BCAction’s past Think Before You Pink campaigns.




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