Dr Becky Freeman, a Lecturer in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, writes:

The month of October not only brings the delights of warmer and longer evenings, but also heralds the arrival of an ocean of feel-good pink shopping and events.

Raising awareness and funding for breast cancer research, treatment, and support is as easy as purchasing a bucket of greasy chicken or drinking a bottle of booze.

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Never mind that obesity and alcohol consumption are linked to breast cancer – a little pinkwashing doesn’t hurt anyone as long as worthwhile charities benefit, right?

What if a tobacco company decided to market a pink ribbon cigarette, would this be a step too far?


Better then that you can purchase more benign items like cosmetics, bottles of water, hair products, t-shirts, jewellery, or coffee cups all in the name of finding “the cure”.

However, questions about how much of the total purchase price is actually going to a charity verses how much the company bottom line benefits can reveal a disturbing imbalance.

Donations are often capped at a set amount or represent a very small total of the actual sale price, sometimes totalling less than 1%.

There is a brewing and increasingly vocal backlash against the pinkwashing of a health issue that will affect 1 in 9 women in Australia at some stage in their lives.

A quick web search will link you to hundreds of news stories and blogs about the co-opting of women’s heath by corporate marketing departments.

The documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a feature-length film that shows how the devastating reality of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labelled a “dream cause,” has become concealed by a shiny, pink story of success.

Sadly, breast cancer victims have the most to lose should an increasingly sceptical public sensibly refuse to buy pink.

The best alternative is to generously donate your pink ribbon shopping budget directly to your preferred breast cancer charity, so that they need not be grateful for the corporate scraps given in their name.


For more on this topic, see:

• The panel of marketing experts on Gruen Nation this week discussed the pros and cons of “pinking” of products and cause-related marketing. (It starts about 21.45 into the segment).

• The US-based health journalism watchdog Gary Schwitzer covers some interesting discussions among women with metastatic breast cancer about the “pink undertow” of October.

• Different colour but some similar issues… another blog from Schwitzer critiques an American Heart Association’s campaign – “Go Red for Women” – for featuring a woman far younger than most women suffering from heart disease. “There seems to be no end to the disease awareness disease-mongering,” he concludes.


Update, Oct 24:

More in this SMH investigation of what proportion of  ‘pink dollars’ ends up with breast cancer causes.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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