It’s hard to go into almost any business geared toward the female shopper this month without seeing a wide range of pink-themed products that either imply or claim directly to be involved in finding a “cure” for breast cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings many solid, helpful events that provide information on early detection and treatment which could one day help save lives. On the other hand, the month also brings an array of dubious enticements that may only remove money from the shoppers’ wallets.
There are steps you can take to make informed purchases, says Breast Cancer Action (BCA), a San-Francisco-based group which says it’s the “watchdog” of the breast cancer awareness movement. The 20-year-old membership organization states it is the only national breast cancer organization that does not accept funding from entities that profit from or contribute to cancer, including the pharmaceutical industry.
Since 2004, BCA has focused on the inefficiency of funding breast cancer research by buying pink ribbon products, stating that there is no clear way to determine how much money is actually raised, how much is being spent and where all the dollars are going. Without coordination of research, BCA claims money is being wasted and encourages breast cancer research funders to coordinate their efforts.
BCA advises consumers to ask the following five questions before buying any pink products, and explains what's behind the questions.
1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer? Is the amount clearly stated on the package?
When the package does state the amount of the donation, is that amount enough? Fox Home Entertainment, for example, sold “DVDs for the Cure” for $14.95 and donated 50 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Is this a significant contribution, or a piddly amount? You decide. If you can’t tell how much money is being donated, or if you don’t think it’s enough, give directly to the organization instead.
2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
Many companies place a cap on the amount of money that will be donated. For example, Give Hope Jeans, sold by White House Black Market for $88, donated “net proceeds” from the sale to the organization Living Beyond Breast Cancer. But they’ve capped their contributions at $200,000. This means that once they had reached the $200,000 limit they stopped contributing, no matter how many pairs of jeans were purchased.
In some cases, that cap is a generous amount. In some cases it’s not. But you should know that, whenever there is a cap, your individual purchase may not contribute anything to the cause, depending on when you shop and whether the cap has already been met.
3. How are the funds being raised?
Does making the purchase ensure a contribution to the cause? Or do you, the shopper, have to jump through hoops to make sure the money gets where it’s supposed to go? Lean Cuisine, for example, had a pink ribbon on its boxes of frozen meals, but the purchase of the meal did not result in a donation to a breast cancer organization. Instead, consumers had to visit the Lean Cuisine web site and buy a pink Lean Cuisine lunch tote. Only then would $5 of the tote purchase be donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
4. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
Does the product’s package tell you where the money goes and what will be done with it? For example, Penn is selling pink tennis balls and the package states that 15 cents of your purchase will go to “a Breast Cancer Research Organization.” It doesn’t tell you which organization or what kind of research will be done. Will the money go to fund the same studies that have been ongoing for decades (which already get enormous financial support)? Or will it go to under-funded, innovative research into the causes of breast cancer?
If the donation is going to breast cancer services, is it reaching the people most in need, in the most effective way? The Breast Cancer Site store, for example, donates money to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which helps pay for mammograms for women who cannot afford them. But mammograms are already covered for low-income women through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program. Although this screening program does have limitations, what is most needed is the funding to get low-income women treatment if breast cancer is found.
5. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?
Many companies that raise funds for breast cancer also make products that are linked to the disease. Breast Cancer Action calls these companies “pinkwashers.” BMW, for example, gives $1 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure each time you test-drive one of their cars, even though pollutants found in car exhaust are linked to breast cancer. Many cosmetics companies whose products contain chemicals linked to breast cancer also sell their items for the cause.
Breast Cancer Action: http://bcaction.org/
Think Before You Buy Pink: http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/