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Every October, the nation buys into the spurious notion that shopping can cure breast cancer. Slapping a coat of pink on everything from kitchen appliances to fried chicken has become so de rigueur that breast-cancer advocates have coined the term “pinkwashing” to describe companies that promote pink-ribbon products while continuing to manufacture or sell products linked to the disease. Breast-cancer campaigns have become a billion-dollar cottage industry, yet only a fraction of that money ends up funding breast-cancer research. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, for one, wants to see greater transparency and accountability in this pinkest of Wild Wests.

Eric Schneiderman, New York, breast cancer, pinkwashing, Think Before You Pink, cause-related fashion, Avon, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, cause-related marketing

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It’s true that some cause-related efforts have resulted in substantial donations, but Schneiderman’s office also found that consumers rarely understand how their largesse will benefit charity. After a yearlong review of pink-ribbon and similar campaigns from nearly 150 companies, the Attorney General issued five best practices for transparent cause marketing that will protect consumers and charities alike.

Schneiderman’s office also found that consumers rarely understand how their largesse will benefit charity.

Companies, for instance, need to disclose key information about each campaign, including the specific amount from each purchase that will be donated to charity, if there are contractual limits on the campaigns, and if a fixed amount has been promised to charity regardless of the number of products sold.

Retailers and manufacturers using ribbons and similar symbols on their products must also inform consumers if the purchase will generate a donation or if the symbols are there merely to raise awareness of the cause. The guidelines should be enforced even in social-media campaigns, in which companies promise donations if consumers agree to “like” or “follow” them or their products. Finally, at the conclusion of each campaign, companies should clearly disclose on their websites the amount of charitable funds they’ve amassed.

“Consumers who intend to support this worthy cause deserve to know that their purchases do the good promised by the pink ribbon campaigns,” Schneiderman says. “These best practices, agreed to by the nation’s largest breast-cancer charities, will help ensure that cause marketing campaigns provide the benefit that’s expected, and that consumers, charities, and above all, the women and families affected by this devastating disease are protected.”

The nation’s two largest breast cancer charities, Susan G. Komen For The Cure and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, have signed on to the best practices. “These guidelines will bolster public confidence in cause marketing and hopefully will result in more money going to fighting this horrible disease,” Schneiderman adds.

+ Eric Schneiderman

+ Think Before You Pink