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.

 

February 9, 2012

Anti-Komen Information Continues to Emerge

Komen Race for the Cure—who would know how much more information would come out from under the rocks!? It’s worth another blog after the one a few days ago. To summarize the situation, Komen decided to defund Planned Parenthood because it was under “investigation” by a legislator and, after a great protest across the country, recanted its decision. The funding was less than $700,000 out of Komen’s budget, less than the organization paid to lobby against the new health care law, and not used for anything except cancer detection. Karen Handel, who some people hold responsible for the decision, has resigned. Komen indicated that it still might defund Planned Parenthood because it doesn’t provide mammograms.

First, the word “cure” that Komen thinks it owns and sues anyone else using the term. Now, of those categories being researched, which sounds like it is actually focused on curing breast cancer? A breakdown of research spending from 1982-2010: treatment, 22 percent; early detection, 15 percent; etiology, 8 percent; prevention, 10 percent; model systems, 3 percent; survivorship, 9 percent; and biology, 33 percent. How many of these categories contribute to the “cure”? Treatment and early detection don’t help the cure. That leaves 53 percent of research funding, and Komen spends only 15 percent for research, down from a decade below. The math comes out to less than 8 cents of every dollar donated to Komen that’s spent on the “cure.”

Remember the “pinkwashing,” in which corporations promise to donate money if you buy pink stuff? These donations are for only a limited time: if you buy pink after that, the corporation takes all the money. Plus they may increase the price to pay for the pink and then not lower it after the end of the donation time.

Back to prevention instead of the cure. Scientific studies show that good health habits can inhibit cancer. Komen fails to mention getting enough Vitamin D, and eating healthy without sugar because the organization promotes pink cupcakes and greasy fried chicken. As a major player in the cancer industry, Komen would collapse if a cancer cure was developed.

Until 2008, Komen could not provide unlimited funds for lobbying. This changed when they founded the Advocacy Alliance, a 504(c)4 non-profit. At that time the staff was largely Democrat under staffer Jennifer Luray who received a six-figure severance package when she left in 2010 for a new job. That’s when now-resigned ultra-conservative Karen Handel took over and Planned Parenthood got put on the chopping block for funding. Megan Carpentier points out that, despite Handel’s claim that she had nothing to do with this decision, she earlier said that her role was to “[work] with [the affiliates] to make sure they are as strong as they can be.” Her salary has not been disclosed. Results from the tax year ending on March 31, 2012, will bring this to light—as well as her severance package.

Even Komen members knew that pulling funding from Planned Parenthood was a bad idea, according to a former employee who spoke anonymously. An internal staff review and board subcommittee agreed that the funding should be continued. Cutting off all funds would endanger low-income women who depended on the service, and a partial cutoff would compromise the integrity of the grants process and not shut up critics. Former senior communications advisor John Hammerly said, “It was our recommendation that we stay the course.” The full board unanimously overruled the subcommittee’s recommendations.

So who are the members of the board? Ultra-conservative and founder of Susan G. Komen in the name of her sister, Nancy Brinker, of course. Also her son, Eric. Then Dallas socialite/philanthropist/GOP donor/oil baroness/Junior Leaguer Linda Custard, who chairs the board of the elite Hockaday prep school (once attended by G.W. Bush’s daughters) and serves as a trustee for Southern Methodist University (eventual home to the G.W. Bush Library). Connie O’Neill has a similar portfolio; she notably serves on the school district finance committee of Highland Park (the most conservative zip code in the country), as well as the Crystal Charity ball, vital in the world of rich Texas Republicans. Also corporate real estate law firm founder Silicon Valley VC Linda Law, a Republican National Committee Regent, meaning a $250,000+ donor. These are in addition to Jane Abraham, the General Chairman of the anti-choice and anti-science Susan B. Anthony List and of its Political Action Committee.

Myths have swirled around the country, sometimes to justify the Komen action. But the facts don’t change:

Komen is still considering the withdrawal of grants from Planned Parenthood. The Washington Post reported, “It did not specifically state that the foundation would fund Planned Parenthood but said that the group would be eligible to apply for future grants.”

Komen has a problem with its strong connection to Republican politics. “A review of the board of directors of Komen…reveals that Brinker has the likely votes to control board decisions at any given time, and that those votes are either Republican stalwarts or individuals personally loyal to her,” Buzzflash reported. James Abruzzo, a management and global business instructor at Rutgers Business School, said,  “When you have a chairman who’s also the president, you have a lack of checks and balances. The founder generally populates the board with friends and associates.’’

Komen suffered from decisions influenced by right-wing Republicans Karen Handel and Ari Fleischer. According to an anonymous employee, “Karen Handel was the prime instigator of this effort, and she herself personally came up with investigation criteria. She said, ‘If we just say it’s about investigations, we can defund Planned Parenthood and no one can blame us for being political.'” Emails between Komen leadership on the day the Planned Parenthood decision was announced, reviewed by Huffington Post under the condition they not be published, confirm the source’s description of Handel’s sole “authority” in crafting and implementing the Planned Parenthood policy.

Komen has led lobbying efforts against common-sense healthcare bills for years–even those that would help women. Komen has stood in the way of research into environmental causes of cancer. In 2002, Mary Ann Swissler reported that a July 12, 2001 agreement between the President and five companies to run a Medicare prescription discount card program for Medicare patients included a company called Caremark Rx where Nancy Brinker was on the board of directors. If approved, the discount cards would provide up to a 10 percent discount on brand-name drugs.

Komen may have temporarily lost PR through this brouhaha, but it brought up horrible myths such as a medical link between abortion and cancer. An Oregon newspaper has published a letter to the editor stating this as fact. The American Cancer Society concluded, “At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.” Every major study supports this finding.

Even Brinker knows that abortion does not have a link to cancer. She called it “an old wives’ tale” in her memoir when she vigorously defended Komen’s Planned Parenthood grants. “The grants in question supplied breast health counseling, screening, and treatment to rural women, poor women, Native American women, many women of color who were underserved–if served at all–in areas where Planned Parenthood facilities were often the only infrastructure available. Though it meant losing corporate money from Curves [religiously-affiliated fitness centers], we were not about to turn our backs on these women.” Yet Komen added Jane Abraham, of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List to its board. “Abraham is also closely affiliated with the Nurturing Network, a global network of crisis pregnancy centers,” Jodi Jacobsen of RH Reality writes, “Groups like Nurturing Network are the nucleus of lies about abortion and breast cancer.”

The backlash against Komen was a widespread grassoots revolt, not a conspiracy by the “liberal media” in spite of what columnist Ross Douthat writes. When he cries about the media opposition to the country’s “pro-life” voices, he ignores the fury from millions of American women in taking money from Planned Parenthood. Deanna Zandt, who created the Planned Parenthood Saved Me tumblr, posted information about who came to her site: “You might think our crazy traffic came from those media mentions. Shockingly, no–most of the hits came before the major media. So, to repeat: telling and sharing our stories matters.”

Keep that anger alive when “small” government tries to take away women’s reproductive rights—like the current batch of Republicans who want to make birth control illegal. Think it can’t happen? Listen to the candidates’ speeches—before the fury over Komen and Planned Parenthood occurred.

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