Was it just me or was anyone else suffering from pink ribbon fatigue this week? Before you start sending me hate emails let me explain. First of all my mother suffered from breast cancer so I do know a little bit about the distress caused by the disease, although I’m willing to concede that, as a man, I don’t know very much.
What’s irritating me is not breast cancer but the tactics being used by some charities to raise money and awareness.
A good example is Bono’s Product Red campaign A while ago, the New York Times reported that over $22 million had been raised to help women infected with HIV in Ghana, Swaziland and Rwanda. But some critics also pointed out that as much as $100 million had been spent by commercial organisations such as American Express, Microsoft and Armani promoting their connection with the campaign. The amount of money raised by the campaign is now thought to be in excess of $50 million but the criticism remains. Cause-related marketing or embedded giving it’s called and it satisfies the heads and hearts of charities and commercial organisations alike.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation has done a phenomenal job rasing money and awareness and all credit to that for that. However, I am becoming uneasy about the hundreds of companies worldwide that are using the issue of breast cancer (and other serious issues) to support their sales.
Money is often given with very few questions asked and I am especially concerned about whether or not some of the companies contributing to the pink ribbon campaign globally might not be contributing to the problem.
For example, many of the companies that are using pink ribbons to boost their image amongst women are producing products that, according to organisations such as Breast Cancer Action (US), contain or create chemicals that are likely to be associated with the development of the disease.
You’ve probably heard of white washing and green washing. This is pink washing and I suspect that a key motivation of many of these commercial organisations is raising money for themselves.
Another issue is that many of the pink “home and lifestyle” products that these charities are endorsing. Shoes, t-shirts and cute baby jump suits seem to be fashion products aimed at women in their twenties and perhaps thirties when it’s well known that 80% of breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged fifty plus.
Now you could argue that breast cancer is most dangerous for young women but if that’s the case shouldn’t we be spending more time educating young women about some of the risk factors such as alcohol and diet?
Charity is becoming an industry like any other and we are increasingly being asked to shop for convenient solutions. There is nothing wrong with this. Building an element of giving into everyday products is a great idea but it is becoming so widespread that I am starting to feel coerced. Most embedded giving is unregulated and the precise nature of the relationship is unknown. Moreover, introducing a third party into the giving equation is moving the donors further away from the recipients, which instinctively sounds like a bad idea.