October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And pink is everywhere – all over the shelves of retail stores like Wal-Mart and adorning the backs of NFL linemen. We’ve been trained to know that the color pink represents a supporter of breast cancer awareness or research. So sporting a pink ribbon, jersey, or band should demonstrate that you have put some of your dollars toward the cause.
“Not necessarily so,” say the Better Business Bureau and other consumer groups. It should come as no surprise that many an enterprising social deviant has jumped on the pink bandwagon to profit from people’s assumptions that purchasing pink means supporting the cure. What has become known as “pinkwashing” is a growing problem that has been highlighted in the media – from Reuters, to Marie Claire (yes, a fashion magazine, but nonetheless they wrote a substantive article on pinkwashing!) to Fox News. Consumers have been urged to inquire about where proceeds go before they purchase a pink product.
With all this attention being placed on the pink ne’er-do-wells (including the recent documentary, Pink Ribbon, Inc.), you can expect the FTC to start looking into these companies for false and deceptive practices. The FTC regularly picks up issues exposed by consumer advocacy groups and news reports. Indeed, some FTC staffers have the task of reviewing such reports and researching the underlying issues. Those companies that are holding themselves out as anti-cancer champions by donning pink should be on the lookout for some regulatory attention.
It seems pretty likely that a few of the companies profiled by the Marie Claire piece may be in for a thorough FTC review. One company’s website, with lots of “Donate Now” pink hyperlinks, has cleverly identified itself with established breast cancer foundations like the Susan G. Komen Foundation under its “History” tab or celebrity advocates under its “Ambassadors” tab. But a careful review of the vague representations on the site seems to indicate the organization itself is not directly affiliated with any of them.
State attorneys general are already looking into some of these breast cancer foundations. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed suit in June against Long Island-based Coalition Against Breast Cancer. That group allegedly solicited some $9.1 million over five years while spending virtually no money on breast cancer programs.
No surprises that some people want to take advantage of people’s soft and charitable spots. Pink profiteers should not be surprised if their acts result in a knock on the door from a federal or state agent who is not trick-or-treating this Halloween.