That Little Pink Ribbon Might Not be Exactly What You Think

pink_ribbonI'm pretty pro-October for a lot of reasons: sweaters and leaves and pumpkin-flavoured everything; Hallowe'en; fall hikes and trail runs, to name a few.

I'm also a strong supporter of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, and have always found numerous ways to support the cause.

Which is why I was so disappointed to find out that the ubiquitous Pink Ribbon symbol may actually be a little less than it's cracked up to be.

You've probably seen the Pink Ribbon all over the place: it appears on everything from water bottles to clogs. And in a lot of ways, it's an awesome campaign: it's raised a TON of awareness about breast cancer. It's not the campaign that's the problem.

I always assumed that products sporting the ribbon meant two things: a portion of the sale of that product went towards supporting awareness, and the product itself was free of materials now known to cause cancer (like the environmental toxins I often educate about). 

It turns out neither assumption is true: the Pink Ribbon symbol isn't actually regulated by any one organization, so any company with any ties to breast cancer awareness or research donations can include the symbol on their products.

This is what the term pinkwashing, if you've heard it, means. 

A pinkwasher is 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 that are linked to the disease."

A great example are cosmetic companies: many of them include harmful environmental toxins in their products, but still donate to breast cancer awareness funds, and so label their products with the symbol.

Also, some companies will make the same donation every year, but then put the symbol on their products to make consumers think buying from them increases the donation amount.

HOWEVER, I don't want everyone to think the whole campaign is a bust! There's a ton of awareness generated because of the little pink ribbon, and it would be a shame to throw it out because of the dishonest behaviour of a few companies. The fact that companies are taking advantage of the pink ribbon in the first place indicates how successful it's been.

So what can you do about it? Think Before You Pink is a great place to start - they offer a free toolkit with information about which companies are actually supporting breast cancer awareness, and which are just capitalizing on the popularity of the campaign. 

On the whole, educating yourself a bit about what you're buying is never a bad idea. And in this case, it could help restore that little pink ribbon to what it was intended to be: a symbol of support and hope for women with breast cancer.