State Attorney General Will Issue Warning About “Pinkwashing”

Pink products to promote breast cancer awareness can be false and misleading

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A recent survey showed that 84 percent of all Americans buy pink products with a breast cancer tie-in. That translates into big money, and sometimes, exploitation.

Pink ribbons on products can be false, deceptive and misleading. The practice is known as pinkwashing -- using the color pink and other symbolism (think ribbons) to create a disingenuous connection to fighting breast cancer. There is no protection for the consumer, and sometimes, the product with a pink ribbon is really not doing anything to fight breast cancer.

NBC4 has learned exclusively that the California Attorney General will be issuing a consumer alert Friday because too many companies are abusing the pink ribbon to make money.  

Document: Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Warns of Scams (PDF)

For the maker of a product, a ribbon can generate a 100 percent increase in sales as consumers reach for the pink with the hopes of doing good. It's called passive giving and breast cancer groups such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure pretty much wrote the book on this type of fundraising.

Deb Anthony is the executive director of the Los Angeles County chapter, and urges buyer to check the sales tag for the fine print. Some labels clearly say the percentage of funds that will be donated to which organization. Others don't say much at all.

"You need to be really clear about how much is going to be donated," Anthony said.

A lot of products give far less than you might expect. A $46 Bare Necessities bra donates only 25 cents of every purchase. The Breast Cancer Site online says every purchase funds only 1 percent of a mammogram.

Then, there are products like giant pink fortune cookies and pen sets that claim to simply raise "awareness."

Cancer patient Lori Marx-Rubiner, of Encino, is urging people to buy pink responsibly.

"I would much rather that whatever money they're spending on a pink product, be donated directly to an organization that focuses on research," she said. "I really do seek to avoid the pink ribbons. They infuriate me … I feel that companies are marketing on the back of my disease and trying to make a profit off it."

Two scams the Attorney General is warning about: house parties thrown to raise money for breast cancer, and phone solicitations. Just because they say they are calling on behalf of a recognized charity, doesn't mean they are.

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