Ask someone to name a charity campaign, and they will inevitably name one associated with the colour pink – with breast cancer in other words. The worldwide movement has launched a torrent of feel-good products and events to foster sisterhood and benefit breast cancer research.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Not everyone thinks so. The recent Léa Pool documentary, Pink Ribbon Inc., paints an alarming picture of the industry that has sprung up around breast cancer, using the disease to market unrelated products or clean up their image by “pinkwashing.” Pink handguns for charity anyone? Some of the companies are even associated with products containing cancer-causing agents, such as hormone-filled yoghurt. And in the U.S., Breast Cancer Awareness Month was started by the makers of a breast cancer drug, who also manufacture pesticides under a different name. While it’s not yet scientifically proven than any of these products contain enough carcinogenic ingredients to cause serious damage, they benefit from the marketing spin nonetheless. As one woman in the documentary points out, “It’s almost like our disease is being used for people to profit, and that’s not okay.”
There’s also controversy over how the funds raised are actually spent. Prevention vs. cure and research vs. awareness – where should the money go? Women interviewed in Pink Ribbon Inc. claim that because of funding choices, research is approaching breast cancer backwards; it prioritizes people who already have the disease, the famous search for “the cure.” They pose an important question: how do you stop a disease when you don’t know what causes it? On the other hand, a breast cancer researcher and a charity representative says prevention research is in fact getting the funding it needs and is doing just fine. It’s hard to know what’s really going on behind the scenes!
So if the cause has developed some murky corporate ties and there are doubts about research funding, why is the effort to think pink for breast cancer still so strong? Is it more about the solidarity of women than it is about the disease? Or does the controversy even matter people are paying attention and money is being raised?
If you feel a little leery about buying “pink,” check out this CTV story for tips on how to make sure money from that pink toilet paper will really go to charity (since it doesn’t always). And check out this link for more info about Breast cancer as a profit industry.