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Business blog perpetuates Pinkwashing in story about the auto industry and Breast Cancer Awareness

September 27, 2012

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and that means we will all be seeing more and more of the pink ribbons on products being sold.

Corporations like KFC, ConAgra, Occidental Chemical and Johnson & Johnson are all telling consumers that if they buy their products with the strategically placed pink ribbons on the box, the company will donate money to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Sounds like a good thing, right? According to Samatha King, author of the groundbreaking book Pink Ribbons Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, most of the commercial sponsorship of breast cancer awareness is nothing more than pinkwashing.

I good example pinkwashing is an article in Michigan Loves Manufacturing, touring the ongoing commitment of GM and Chevrolet to “support the fight against cancer.” The article is essentially a PR piece listing the fabulous things that these auto companies will be doing to raise money for breast cancer awareness, such as walks, incentives for customers to bring their car to GM/Chevy service stations, test car drives and displaying a pink Chevy Camaro at various events during the month of October, which will result in money being donated to the American Cancer Society.

There are two major reasons why this is an example of pinkwashing. First, the money that will be raised by Chevrolet/GM may not even be used in finding a cure for breast cancer, let alone information about breast cancer prevention. What companies like Chevrolet/GM are doing is tapping into the branding of Breast Cancer Awareness as a way of attracting customers and having their name associated with this campaign.

The second reason, which is related to the first, is a bit more insidious, but speaks to the issue of pinkwashing more directly. GM and Chevrolet are auto companies that by their very nature are major polluting industries. Auto manufacturers contribute to pollution by their role in requiring the use of metals and plastics needed for the production of their vehicles, which results in the mining and extraction of resources that contribute tremendously to the polluting and contaminating of soil, water and humans. Auto companies pollute by manufacturing cars and trucks at their facilities all over the world and by the pollution generating from millions and millions of people driving cars and trucks on a daily basis around the global. The main culprit is the toxins that are emitted from the auto exhaust system, which have been link to cancer in humans and animals.

What researchers like Samantha King and the new film Pink Ribbons Inc. demonstrate is that the very toxins and pollutants that the auto industry (and other industries) generate, all contribute to increasing the chances that people will get cancer, particularly breast cancer. This is the most insidious aspect of pinkwashing, since some companies are not only making money by branding themselves as allies against breast cancer, but because they are major contributors to breast cancer.

The group Breast Cancer Action has some really good resources on understanding the pinkwashing phenomenon. They provide good resources on how to avoid buying into pinkwashing consumerism with a tool called Think Before You Pink. They also have really good information on various campaigns, which target specific industries, like the auto industry and a toolkit for people who want to organize around this issue in their local communities.

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