Nel's New Day

October 28, 2013

Corporate Pinkwashing

As the weather turns cooler across the United States in preparation for winter, October turns pink from its designation as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In its 28th year, the event is prime time for corporations to claim that they are giving part of purchase prices for pink objects to prevent breast cancer. As NFL games feature pink-clad participants and landmark buildings have pink illumination, cosmetic companies invite customers to buy pink products.

Estée Lauder, for example, claims that it has provided more than $48 million for breast cancer research and education. The company, however, keeps secret that their products, including the pink stuff, includes toxic ingredients known to cause cancer and a host of other reproductive, endocrine, and neurological problems.

Of the 15 beauty brands “devoted to defeating breast cancer” in the “We’re Stronger Together” pamphlets, 12—including Aveda, Bobbi Brown, Bumble and Bumble, Clinique, Coach, Darphin, Estée Lauder, Lab Series Skincare for Men, Lamer, Origins, Prescriptives, and Smashbox—sell products containing known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals. Aveda, Bumble and Bumble, and Clinique use the carcinogens formaldehyde—linked to leukemia, lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal cancers—and 1,4-dioxane, which the U.S. National Toxicology Program links to cancers of the gallbladder, kidney, lungs, nasal cavity, skin, and breast. In fact, 22 percent of all cosmetic products may contain 1,4-dioxane, including those designed for children.

Products like Bobbi Brown Blush contain titanium dioxide, also linked to cancer. Darphin’s gels, balms, and moisturizers contain chemicals linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and neurotoxicity. Estée Lauder uses parabens, preservatives that mimic estrogen in the body and can, over time, disrupt hormone function, cause developmental and reproductive toxicity, and may lead to a substantially higher risk of breast cancer. Estée Lauder asks people to raise breast cancer awareness by spending $29.95 on its limited edition Pink Ribbon lip collection although it might contain BHT or Tocopheryl Acetate, both linked to cancer.

Most cosmetics ingredients easily penetrate the skin, products used on lips and hands can be ingested, and sprays and powders are often inhaled. Yet federal oversight of cosmetic manufactures is  non-existent. The FDA cannot require that companies test products for safety or review the majority of products and ingredients before they’re on sale. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review said in 2008 that it would take another two and a half centuries to effectively review all the products currently on the market. It should be noted that the oversight organization for chemicals in cosmetics is composed of cosmetic corporations.

Even Susan G. Komen for the Cure has sold products that can lead to cancer. Only public protest forced the organization to drop Its “Promise Me” perfume, that included chemicals benzyl salicylate, benzophenone-3 (aka oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreens), and coumarin, which were found, respectively, to cause endocrine disruption, to cause cell damage that could lead to cancer, or to be outright carcinogenic.

Estée Lauder, Avon, and Revlon are three of the largest companies marketing the pink ribbon in the United States. In 2005, while using pink ribbon campaigns to gain attention for their brands, Estée Lauder, Avon, and other cosmetic companies even fought California legislation requiring them to notify the state when their products use chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects.

Breast Cancer Action calls this hypocrisy “pinkwashing.” No one is sure how many of the 80,000 chemicals used in the United States are dangerous because only about 200 of them have been tested for human safety. Earlier this month, however, another study showed an even stronger link between BPA and breast cancer than  previously thought.

Founded over 20 years old, BCAction launched the “Think Before You Pink” project in 2002 with its campaign “Who’s Really Cleaning Up?” targeted at companies that used pink ribbon products to raise their profit margin. Since then, the project has shifted to environmental causes of breast cancer. This year’s campaign,“Toxic Time Is Up,” calls for legislation to ban toxins in products that cause cancer and other health-related issues.

The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) not only failed to test the vast majority of chemicals existing before the law went into effect but also allowed chemical manufacturers to keep the ingredients in some chemicals secret. This secrecy applies to almost 20 percent of the 80,000 chemicals commonly used in everyday environment.  The law doesn’t even restrict the use of asbestos. According to TSCA, the government has to prove actual harm in order to control or replace a chemical, therefore assuming chemicals are safe until found that they aren’t.

Some legislators want an updated TSCA, but corporations want their own law called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. This bill not only weakens existing federal law but weakens state laws that are stronger than federal law.

Meanwhile, people buy pink ribbon products without knowing whether the ingredients are carcinogenic or if the company actually donates money to prevent breast cancer. For example, the NFL donated only about $3 million since 2009, a small amount of the $9.5 billion revenue—in only one year.

ehrenreichOver a decade ago, Barbara Ehrenreich, noted feminist author, gave a talk at Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco (CA) after she published a long article in Harper’s Magazine that was sharply critical of the “breast cancer movement” of pink ribbons. She addressed the issue that corporations and organizations usually talk about the “cure,” and say nothing about the cause of breast cancer.

“This omission makes sense: breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate charities if its complexion changed from pink to green. But by ignoring or underemphasizing the issue of environmental causes, the pink-ribbon crowd function as willing dupes of what could be called the Cancer Industrial Complex: by which I mean the multinational corporate enterprise which with the one hand doles out carcinogens and disease and, with the other, offers expensive, semi-toxic, pharmaceutical treatments. Breast Cancer Awareness month, for example, is sponsored by AstraZeneca (the manufacturer of Tamoxifen) which until 1999 was also the fourth largest producer of pesticides in the United States, including at least one known carcinogen….

“We don’t need more ‘awareness’ of breast cancer—we’re VERY aware, thank you very much. We need treatments that work, and above all, we need to know the cause of this killer, so we can stop it before it attacks another generation.

“And we certainly don’t need a breast cancer culture that, by downplaying the possible environmental causes of cancer, serves as an accomplice in global poisoning—normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience.”

Those who really want to prevent cancer need to push their legislators into passing  a strong law that prevents corporations from using dangerous chemicals in their products—especially in ones that are ingested or used on the body.

You can start by signing a petition from BRAction.



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