Waspish Wednesday: Komen Foundation Pinkwashing Us with Perfume (with a side note on #Occupy)

Alright, so technically it’s Thursday, but I’ve had so much going on, this is the first chance I’ve had to write this post. To whit, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is still pinkwashing consumers. Some of you might have seen my tweets and Facebook links about this, or read my DTOX Radio blog post. I’m taking it to you, my blog readers, now before October, “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” is over, because there is more to be done, and it’s really very easy to do. It also might teach you a lot you didn’t know.

Let’s start with one of the most disturbing facts about the pinkification of breast cancer: It is actually preventing breast cancer awareness. The very thing all this pink ribbon shit is supposed to do — raise awareness about breast cancer and get women to take preventive measures? — has the opposite effect.

But, it’s not just that. It’s worse. Taking the offensive, ridiculous corporatization of “girly cancer” to the next level, the Komen Foundation is selling a perfume to raise money for breast cancer prevention!

The perfume is called “Promise Me.” As in what?

  • “Promise me that you will never buy or wear this perfume because it will make anyone with fragrance sensitivity sick?”
  • “Promise me that you will make the connection between people with breast cancer and people with MCS, because both have their disease as a result of chemical injury (poisoning) by things such as the petrochemicals in perfume?”
  • “Promise me you won’t wear this perfume around anyone getting chemotherapy, because it will make them sick?”
  • “Promise me you won’t buy into a corporation pretending to be a grassroots organization putting fundraising ahead of health?”
  • “Promise me you won’t buy into the pinkwashing the Komen Foundation is engaging in as it tries to backpeddle from their deceptive practices in the name of fundraising?”

Breast Cancer Action (@BCAction on twitter) has been calling Komen to task for their pinkwashing of breast cancer and irresponsible use of carcinogenic agents to raise money.

If you missed it, BCA’s press release to RAISE A STINK on this subject can be found here.

I signed on to the petition and email the Komen foundation. I got this form letter back from them. I felt very angry about it:

Thank you for your email to Susan G. Komen for the Cure® about the Promise Me fragrance. The fragrance was designed especially for Susan G. Komen for the Cure by TPR Holdings, which is donating $1 million to Komen annually for breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment programs. The funds raised through the sale of the perfume will be put to good use in the pursuit of that goal.

Our first concern is always the safety and well-being of women and men facing this disease. To that end, our partners’ products are subject to review by our Medical and Scientific Affairs team, which evaluated the perfume’s ingredients, the latest research, and guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to our research, the ingredients found in Promise Me are within fragrance and cosmetic industry standards, and at these levels have not been shown to elevate breast cancer risk in people. At Susan G. Komen for the Cure, we support evidence-based medicine, that is, decisions based on current facts and knowledge.  In addition, we make this information available to our constituents, respecting that they are intelligent consumers who make informed decisions about the use of products based on evidence. As new research and new findings are published, we will certainly take them into account.

Nevertheless, at Komen’s request and to be sensitive to these concerns, the manufacturer agreed to reformulate the perfume. The last batch of the perfume was manufactured in May of this year; we expect manufacturing and sale of the reformulated product to begin in early 2012.  We do not intend to ask the manufacturer to recall or remove unsold products.

Komen has always believed that ending cancer requires research about how it begins and how it might be prevented, which is why Komen  has invested more than $65 million to prevention research and an additional $7 million supporting 18 projects investigating environmental estrogens, pesticides, steroid hormones, and nitrites/nitrates and their relation to breast cancer.

We’re also taking action for clarity and consensus around the direction that environmental research should take in the future, which is why we requested – and are funding – a $1 million study by the Institute of Medicine to answer that question. We expect IOM’s recommendations in December, along with IOM’s assessment of evidence-based strategies for individuals to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Komen is strongly committed to addressing breast cancer through science, advocacy and community and global outreach to achieve our mission to end breast cancer, forever.

I’m going to deconstruct this reply based on my 16 years of experience as an environmental health activist. Then, I’ll give you the info on how Breast Cancer Action views this response.

First paragraph: This corporate buddy program is going to bring in a lot of money. That’s our first priority.

Second paragraph: We used FDA guidelines. Of course, since the FDA doesn’t follow its own guidelines for testing or labeling cosmetics, and in fact lets perfume manufacturers hide behind “trade secret laws” that keep those untested or known toxic ingredients secret, FDA guidelines really amounts to a free-for-all, with no regulation.

The third paragraph is so dense with misleading language that it requires several bullet points:

1. “The ingredients found in Promise Me are within fragrance and cosmetic industry standards” = see links above, that fragrance and cosmetic industry standards are set by the industry, itself, to avoid regulation.

2. “These levels have not been shown to elevate breast cancer risk in people” = “We don’t actually know if these chemicals elevate breast cancer risk in people, there’s just not enough proof yet to say we know. We also are not mentioning other types of chemical injury/health damage known to be caused by perfume chemicals, nor studies of fragrance chemicals’ effects on laboratory animals or the environment.”

3. “At Susan G. Komen for the Cure, we support evidence-based medicine, that is, decisions based on current facts and knowledge.” In other words, we only will believe that something is harmful once it has been on the market long enough, and enough people have gotten sick, died, and/or brought suit against us, and enough time has elapsed that the chemicals have been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to cause illness, that it is in fact dangerous. We do not follow the Precautionary Principle, which takes the common sense approach that you first prove something is safe before introducing it into the environment and people’s lives and bodies. Instead, we believe in releasing products without sufficient testing, and only when they are known to be highly dangerous, are they removed from the market (when the damage is done). That is Science!”

4.  “We make this information available to our constituents, respecting that they are intelligent consumers who make informed decisions about the use of products based on evidence.” In other words, “People should just know, without being presented with all the facts, that the products we, a health advocacy organization, are promoting may be hazardous to their health, so if they get sick as a result, it’s their own fault for not being informed consumers.”

5. “As new research and new findings are published, we will certainly take them into account.” Again, “Once we have enough double-blind, placebo-controlled studies proving that these perfume chemicals are dangerous, we’ll switch to something else (which has not yet been tested, either).”

Phew!

Fourth paragraph: We’re still going to sell the stuff we know is hazardous that we’ve already made, but we’ll reformulate a new perfume that has slightly different ingredients, but will still, of course, because it is perfume made up of synthetic chemicals, be hazardous to health and the environment. But, once you know what’s in it, it’ll already be for sale, too.

Fifth paragraph: We’re spending a lot of money, folks! We are spending this million and that million, and we are even examining some environmental factors, just not the ones that affect our bottom line.

Sixth paragraph: We’re using a tiny percentage of our budget to discuss how we want to investigate “environmental research,” but we’ll only listen to “evidence-based” strategies, which is our way of saying that we can pick and choose which “facts” are most convenient for us.

So, that’s how I parse their response. Breast Cancer Action was equally unimpressed with the Komen Foundation’s response, which they say, Raises More Questions than It Answers.

If you would like to get involved in the effort to uncover the true nature of breast cancer research, funding, and other pertinent issues, BCA has a fantastic toolkit available (in PDF form):

With Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink Toolkit, you’ll get the resources, information, and tools you need to understand the truth behind pink ribbon marketing, the conflicts of interest in the cancer industry, and why so many women are still being diagnosed—and help others learn about it, too.

The toolkit gives the history and background of pinkification and how corporations have jumped on the pink bandwagon to cash in on concerns about breast cancer while selling products that promote breast cancer! THAT’s what pinkwashing is!

It’s easy enough to see the corporatization of breast cancer on your own, without any materials from an advocacy organization. Just put “Susan G. Komen” into your Twitter search box, and you’ll see hundreds of tweets about winning or buying cameras, clothes, purses, bras, and fashion magazines in the name of supporting the Komen Foundation. Forbes has even profiled the Komen CEO in this article, “Susan G. Komen CEO: Too Much Pink Is Never Enough.”

Meanwhile, here are some easy things to do to raise a stink:

You can use BCA’s handy-dandy form that just takes a moment to fill out and will then get sent to the CEO, chief marketing officer, and vice president of Komen for the Cure.

You can also contact Komen for the Cure and tell them in your own words, “Making and marketing a product to women that contains synthetic chemicals is NOT the way to fight breast cancer!”

You can tweet the Komen Foundation at @komenforthecure

Or use snail-mail: Komen for the Cure, 5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 250, Dallas, TX 75244

Phone: 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636)

Email: http://ww5.komen.org/contact.aspx

Maybe it’s hard to think about this with all the global upheaval occurring. I plan to spend the next week’s blogs on #Occupy — specifically how people with chronic illness and disability can get involved in the efforts.

But I needed to do this first, because the #Occupy movement and the Think Before You Pink campaign are sisters:

Are you having trouble focusing on this or other “small matters” because you are wanting to work on the #Occupy movement? They are very much related. This excellent blog post, Telling the truth is a revolutionary act, by a staff member of Breast Cancer Action who was feeling this conflict and came to some profound realizations about the connections between the work she was doing, and the #Occupy movement.

Please click on this link to do your easy activism by sending a letter to the Komen Foundation. It will only take you a minute. And then, back to my regularly scheduled Barnum updates and lots — I hope — about #Occupy and how people with chronic illness and disability can get involved in the movement.

- Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who died of cancer despite getting lots of exercise and not smoking, drinking, or eating fatty foods), and Barnum, SDiT and budding RETRIEVER!

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7 Responses to “Waspish Wednesday: Komen Foundation Pinkwashing Us with Perfume (with a side note on #Occupy)”


  1. 1 Sarah October 27, 2011 at 11:27 am

    This was a real eye opener! I had no idea the Komen organization was so tied in with corporate financial interests! I don’t even know what to say. Wow! Thanks for opening my eyes!

    • 2 Sharon Wachsler October 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      Sarah,
      I know, it was an eye opener for me, too! Although, given the history of BCAM, not as surprising as one would hope. There is a long history of the big cancer charities being intimately tied to corporate interests. For example, board members of GE, who dump toxic waste into the land and water (near where I live, there is a huge PCB probelm thanks to GE), and GE *also* makes cancer detection and treatment products, such as mammography and scanning technology. So, they get their bread buttered on both sides: They cause cancer through their practices of polluting the environment (and people’s drinking water, etc.), and then they make money on cancer patients’ screening and treatment. So, of *course,* BCAM has always steered away from any environmental link between breast cancer and chemical exposure. Instead, BCAM focuses on individual “causes,” like exercise, diet, etc. So, it’s just one more easy way to shame women who get breast cancer, as well, because they must have done something wrong to get it, right? Since it’s all about lifestyle and genetics…. Nevermind that the one link that there is a correlation between fat and breast cancer could have a lot to do with the fact that lipids (fat cells) store and carry chemicals/toxins in our bodies, including estrogenic chemicals derived from petroleum. Such as what’s in perfume products….

  2. 3 Zoe October 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Hi there! I’m the Resource Liaison at Breast Cancer Action and I just wanted to thank you for your comment about my blog post (Telling the Truth…). These are exciting times – a bit like a crack in the universe that lets the light in, as Leonard Cohen might say! Keep up your good work and know that your support is deeply appreciated. We’ll get there yet! zoe

    • 4 Sharon Wachsler October 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Thank you, Zoe, for the work that you’re doing! Yes, suddenly, the world is waking up! Those who are feeling too ill from cancer or treatment can also help the Occupy movement. Get info at follow @Occupy_at_home or go to occupyathome.wordpress.com. We will not be silenced anymore.

  3. 5 Nancy November 21, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    After reading this article I thought to myself “Did I write this article” Because I could have. I am just as infuriated and you said it so well! Kudos!

    • 6 Sharon December 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm

      Hi Nancy,
      Your comment ended up in my spam folder for some reason, and I just found it doing my spam dump. I read your post. I like “non-fumers.” I was actually involved in making an educational video called Second-Hand Scent. I think it’s a useful term for people to learn.


  1. 1 If Corporations Aren’t People, Neither Are People Corporations | #Occupy at Home Trackback on November 21, 2011 at 4:06 am
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