Pinkwashing is a Thing, This is How We Keep Our Partnerships Transparent
photo by Lindsey Byrnes
Breast Cancer Action coined the term pinkwashing as part of their Think Before You Pink® campaign.
Pinkwasher: (pink’-wah-sher) noun. 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 that are linked to the disease.
It’s a thing. A real thing.
October is an incredibly illuminating and often controversial time for breast cancer charities. People are heightened to current pain and past loss. A lot of people are tired of “awareness” and are looking for a cure. This is obviously completely valid. We all know about breast cancer. The awareness that we focus on is not breast cancer in general. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 12,000 women under 40 are being diagnosed every year.
We do all we can to educate and empower young women about their lifetime breast cancer risk and teach them tools for cancer prevention. While many other orgs and companies create banners and pink ribbon labels to promote awareness, we focus on prevention. That’s why we say breast cancer prevention month, not “awareness month”.
We believe in turning awareness into action.
We realize pink products put many people off, we also know the opportunity they give us to fund our programs and educate new audiences. We take pinkwashing very seriously and take every possible step to ensure, as an organization, that we are not pinkwashers. We work deeply with each of our partners to ensure they represent the values we wouldn’t compromise for those we serve. Each partnership is an opportunity to reach the employees, their families, and their audience to empower them to be their own health advocates. Our partners all commit to distributing KAB Check Yourself cards in the workplace and also in their online orders, and to spread the message about the Keep A Breast Check Yourself! app through their social networks.
These types of partnerships are the largest revenue stream for Keep A Breast. We need them to be able to exist to serve you. We don’t have any large donors or government grants or funding from big pharma to support us. Mostly because we don’t perform research to find a cure. We know many organizations are tirelessly looking for a cure, and we appreciate their work, but we found our place filling a gap: educating on prevention, early detection, and partnering with orgs, like BCCP and EWG, that are researching the cause of this terrible disease.
We work very hard to choose brands and partners that have shared values and are in alignment with our mission. From a lens of prevention, we advocate a plant-based diet so we would never work with someone like Kentucky Fried Chicken. We promote using non toxic products, so we would never work with Avon (unless they go non toxic, and we are rooting for that!). You get the gist! We respect and love our audience, and the research that clearly exists about cancer-causing carcinogens. So we continually ask ourselves, what would you think? How would you feel about this? And can we feel 100% about recommending a product or accepting a donation from this company?
Here are our the main guidelines we use when choosing partners.
When we have a product collaboration or partnership we ask that all our partners set a dollar amount, per item sold, with a minimum guarantee. We steer clear of language that does not provide a transparent donation amount. We prefer and ask our partners to state a dollar amount. For example: “$1 from every Keep A Breast, Pushing 4 Pink, and Breast Cancer Awareness bracelet sold is directly donated to KAB”.
Although it is not our preference, there are occasions where brands insist on using a percentage in their messaging, rather than a direct dollar amount. In that case, we insist on complete transparency and explain what that percentage means. For example: “10% of all online sales are donated to Keep A Breast” or “True & Co. will donate to KAB 25% of the retail price from all True Body bra styles in the Retro Pink up to a maximum of $30,000”.
It’s imperative that the customer knows exactly how much is being donated from their purchase to the charity and how those funds are being used. When you see statements like “A portion of the proceeds from this product will be donated to help fight breast cancer”, ask the question how much and to what organization? A statement like this gives no guarantee on the actual amount of the donation, and if it goes to an organization addressing the root cause of breast cancer, like social inequities or environmental contributors.
We do not work with any brands that use known carcinogens in their products. 90% of cancers are related to our environmental exposures. That could possibly include food, beauty, and home products. We want to be part of the solution. We pledge to not benefit financially from products that could potentially be linked to cancer. Check out our program Non Toxic Revolution for more in-depth info on carcinogens in our environment and products.
We do not work with any brands that test on animals. It’s simply the right thing to do. We strive to create more love and empowerment in the world, so we cannot support cruelty and pain. We are also a PETA certified humane charity.
They are not us. We don’t use them. Pink ribbons are not regulated by any agency and they do not mean that these efforts are effectively working to stop the breast cancer epidemic at all. For example, some products that contribute to a higher risk of breast cancer can slap a pink ribbon on their product and sell more of that product (that contains known carcinogens) because people believe they are doing good. Or a company might display a pink ribbon as a sign they are contributing to a breast cancer organization, but really consumers have to complete another step to actually donate to the org. We don’t think that’s right. If you can’t tell how much money is actually going to that charity, consider donating to them directly.
Some companies, however, insist on promoting with a pink ribbon, as that is the “defining symbol of breast cancer”. To be clear, we aren’t saying that a pink ribbon means they aren’t doing the right thing, but it’s not automatic. Ask the questions and confirm! In that instance, we refer to them with a 🎀 from our Product Emoji Key in our gift guide (2019 gift guide coming early October!), in order to readily give customers the ability to see that.
Just as we always say to check yourself! It’s important to check your labels and read the fine print. If a brand is donating to a charity, ask yourself if that is a charity that you align with and is that where you want your money going? A quick gut check will help you make the right decision.
October is a big month for brands supporting breast cancer charities, and you can make sure you support the brands who are doing it right and really making a difference.