WASHINGTON -- May 4 -- Shareholder activists from Follow The Money, an national alliance for accountability in breast cancer, are joining Trillium Asset Management and other members of the socially responsible investment community to call for greater transparency around Avons Breast Cancer Crusade. Since 2002, Follow The Money Alliance has submitted resolutions to Avons shareholders annually. The Alliance is also supporting a resolution this year calling on Avon to reformulate all of its products worldwide to be free of the chemicals banned by a recent European Union Directive. Follow the Money Alliance targets Avon because it is the largest corporate funder of breast cancer research, which has long associated its corporate identity with the breast cancer cause.
A growing number of critics, with Follow The Money members leading the way, have raised concerns that Avons Foundation has not been forthcoming enough about its financialsparticularly related to its walkathonsand the criteria that it uses to distribute research grants. How much money is raised and spent in each city that hosted an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer? What kind of medical research is conducted with the raised funds? Who specifically advises the Avon Foundation on how to distribute funds, and what criteria are used in doing so?
The Follow The Money Alliance has repeatedly asked Avon for answers to these questions. When the company consistently failed to respond, the alliance took the issue to the shareholders, asking that the company be called on to make more information available to the public.
As a corporation that touts itself as the company for women, Avon has an obligation to be forthcoming about exactly how it distributes funds for breast cancer and how much of each dollar raised actually goes toward addressing disease, said Barbara Brenner, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a Follow The Money member group. People with and at risk for breast cancer are entitled to transparency from every company involved with the breast cancer cause. And we are also entitled to have the products we use on our bodies every day be free from chemicals linked to this disease.
Avon has shown remarkably little interest in having a meaningful dialogue with the Follow the Money coalition to understand its perspective. Many of the coalitions members work directly in the field, conducting research on breast cancer and providing screening and services, but Avon has treated their critique as if it were nothing more than a smear campaign, said Shelley Alpern of Trillium Asset Management. We are shareholders in Avon because of the companys good name and its good works for women, and we expect better from management.
Avon repeatedly cites its commitment to finding a cure, eliminating breast cancer from the face of the earth, and eradicating the disease. But in 2004, less than 5 percent of the Avon Foundations breast cancer grants were distributed to projects devoted to scientific research into the causes, prevention, diagnoses and treatment.
Members of Follow The Money look forward to working with Avon to further several of the alliance's goals: transparency and accountability about funding, using community advisory boards to decide where money goes in local communities, and providing more funding for research that has traditionally been underfunded, such as environmental links to breast cancer.