The death of Jane McGrath has sparked many people and the NSW government to pledge large donations to her foundation. The aim of the McGrath Foundation is to provide funding for breast care nurses in rural and regional Australia. Undoubtedly a very worthwhile cause.

Breast cancer fundraising is big business. Every October in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the market is flooded with “pink ribbon” products and women are urged to “shop to save lives”. You can even buy pink ribbon vodka to make your pink Cosmopolitan martini that much easier to swallow. (According to the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, alcohol is considered a breast cancer risk factor).

Women can feel good about buying that new lippy, designer handbag, diamond watch or even gardening tools because the girlish pink hue confirms you aren’t just shopping, but making a valuable donation. But how much of your money is actually going to a breast cancer charity?

The Think Before You Pink campaign casts serious doubt on who is actually benefitting from this pink retail frenzy. Companies that dovetail their brand advertising with a popular cause stand to profit far more than charities they are supposedly lending a selfless helping hand. The glut of products claiming to be green, eco friendly, and carbon neutral has spurred consumers to be cynical of the greenwashing of their shopping baskets. This same cynicism should apply to the colour pink.

Many breast cancer fundraising products have a maximum donation level placed on them, regardless of the number of units sold. Cartier sold a pink ribbon watch for $3900, but capped its total donation at $30,000 — after the company had sold 10 watches, consumers were no longer contributing to breast cancer causes. And the amount per unit sold that goes to charity can be pitifully small.

Yoplait yogurt pledged to donate 10 cents to charity for every pink yogurt lid mailed back to the company. The charity would receive more money if women simply directly donated the cost of the stamp needed to post back the lid. An individual donation of just $10.00 would require polishing off 100 yogurts.

Companies would not be associating their brands with the pink ribbon campaign unless it was profitable to do so. While raising money and awareness for needy charities, cause-related marketing also brings in big dollars for these companies. Consumers should demand transparency about how much money is being spent on advertising these corporate good deeds, how much profit is being made verses much money the charity finally receives.

In the words of the Think Before You Pink campaign, “if shopping could cure breast cancer it would be cured by now.”