Last week, BuzzFlash at Truthout pointed out the GOP leanings of Nancy Brinker and her tightly held governance of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. We provided evidence of Brinker’s strong Republican donation ties, and the domination of the small (nine member) Komen board by Brinker’s friends, Republican donors – and even her son.
In essence, the Komen Planned Parenthood debacle should not have been unexpected, as detailed in our exposes, since Brinker’s return in late 2009.
Aside from leaning to the right since Brinker’s return as CEO, there has been a long-standing complaint that Komen indulges in rampant “pinkwashing.” This is the use of corporate “cause marketing” relationships with Komen, in return for donations to the foundation. (The Bank of America “pink ribbon” credit card is one such example.)
But it comes at a significant price, according to many observers. Take for instance a Mother Jones article that charges that Komen underplays the likely impact of toxic chemicals in causing breast cancer and other cancers. Why would Komen adopt such policies? Allegedly, according to Mother Jones, because many of its corporate sponsors would have their profits and images negatively affected by Komen recognizing the likely causal relationship.
Mother Jones gets to the specific issue, for example, of Komen having downplayed a relationship between BPA in plastics and cancer:
In April 2010 Komen posted an online statement saying that BPA had been “deemed safe.” And a more recent statement on Komen’s website about BPA, from February 2011, begins, “Links between plastics and cancer are often reported by the media and in email hoaxes.” Komen acknowledges in its older statement that the Food and Drug Administration is doing more studies on BPA, but also says that there is currently “no evidence to suggest a link between BPA and risk of breast cancer.”
“I think that’s at best, misleading, and at worst, demonstrating really significant ignorance by whoever at the Komen Foundation wrote that,” said University of Missouri biology professor and BPA expert Dr. Frederick vom Saal in a telephone interview, reacting to Komen’s 2011 BPA statement. “When you think of this as a foundation that’s out there supposedly protecting women from factors that are involved in breast cancer, I find that statement to be just astounding.”
And how about Komen promoting another corporate “sponsor” by asking people to chow down on Kentucky Fried Chicken? Not so good for preventing breast cancer, according to one critic quoted in The New York Daily News:
With the KFC and Susan G. Komen collaboration, as blogger Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters points out, consumers who buy the buckets of chicken are likely to also buy fries, gravy and soda, too. “So, in effect, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is helping to sell deep-fried fast food and, in so doing, help fuel unhealthy diet and obesity across America, an odd plan given that diet and obesity certainly impact on both the incidence and recurrence of breast cancer,” Freedhoff wrote. And suggested that a possible alternative would have been for KFC to just hand over a check for breast cancer research to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
And there are the flat out intimidation and scams that Komen is party to, according to Jezebel:
In 2010, they spent more than $1 million suing smaller charities that used the phrase “for the Cure” in their names or in their events. The organization said that this was to prevent donor confusion. One fundraising program encouraged socially mobile cancer fighters to battle cancer themselves by mailing in Yoplait tops in order to prompt the company to make a 10-cent donation. Postage at the time was 37 cents; Yoplait prices varied.
A Minnesota Post article gets to the heart of pinkwashing:
Pinkwashing is the term used to describe when corporations claim to care about breast cancer by promoting “pink” products or a “pink ribbon” campaign (especially each October during “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”) while continuing to sell products that are linked to the disease. (One notorious example from a few Octobers ago was a company that promoted “Pinky” vodka to women. Alcohol consumption is generally considered a risk factor for breast cancer….)
For several years, Komen – with the help of TPR Holdings, a New York-based company that makes many colognes and cosmetics and which donates $1 million a year to the charity – has marketed its own perfume, “Promise Me.” It turns out, however, that the perfume contains several toxic chemicals (not listed on the label), including ones suspected of being carcinogenic. (Confronted with these findings, Komen said last fall that it is reformulating the perfume.)
But “Promise Me” has another problem. Like so many of the other pinkwashing products hawked by companies, not much of the perfume’s purchase price actually goes to breast cancer research.
There is no doubt that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has done some positive things for women with breast cancer, research and prevention.
But there is also little doubt that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has turned into a corporate branding machine that has, at times, by its very “cause marketing structure” valued enhancing the corporate profits of its sponsors over the negative impact on the development of breast cancer.
As one source noted in a Daily Beast column: “Komen plays hardball and is determined to stay on top,” says a member of another cancer organization, who declined to be identified. “Let’s be honest about all this: people think of breast cancer as a charity, but it’s really a major business.”
Editor BuzzFlash at Truthout