Friday, October 1, 2010

Pinkwashing season is here

It's October, and that means it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can expect to see lots of touching, provocative, heartfelt, and inappropriately sexy awareness and fundraising campaigns in the next four weeks.

And you will also see a lot of this:

What Miley is telling you is that you can raise a whole dollar for breast cancer research buying a pink Sharpie, autographing a piece of paper, scanning it and uploading it to their site.

Did I mention buying a pink Sharpie?

This is what is known as "pinkwashing". A play on "greenwashing", where companies take on superficial environmental programs and loudly tout it as corporate social responsibility, pinkwashing refers to companies that jump on the pink bandwagon without really doing much. (And in the worst cases, actually contribute to rising cancer rates.)

According to Think Before You Pink, there are some key questions to ask yourself before diving in to a private sector breast cancer initiative.

Let's see how Sharpie does:

1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer? Is the amount clearly stated on the package?

In this case, it is. It's a buck.

2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?

$10,000 Not bad. But then again, Sharpie is ultimately owned by a company that did $1.5 Billion in sales last quarter.

3. How are the funds being raised?

Through purchase and user engagement. Since purchase is an honour system (I doubt they know if you used a Sharpie or another brand) this seems direct enough on their end.

4. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?

City of Hope, a U.S. National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. miley Cyrus is a spokesperson there, as well, which explains here (obviously fleeting) involvement in this campaign.

5. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

There seems to be a lot of urban legend online about getting cancer from Sharpies... but it appears to be just that: myth. The manufacturer, Sanford, makes liquid paper, which is pretty damn toxic, but apparently it has also been cleared of carcinogenic effects.

So, should you buy a pink Sharpie, write your name, scan it, upload it, and generate a dollar for breast cancer research and treatment? Sure. But you can also just send a cheque directly to City of Hope. You'll do more good that way.


  1. Thank you for this post! It's maddening to walk down the grocery store isles decked out in pink all month or to see comercials with taglines like "save the tatas." That's not a public health campaign! I'd prefer to see more educational ads and less fluff, because in the end that would change more lives for the better than these pr stunts.

  2. Like the post.

    Another reason it better to send the check in yourself is the $10,000 is a tax write off for sharpie...