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Demonstrators outside Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers game hold signs that read "Shame Komen" to protest the cancer charity's partnership with fracking giant Baker Hughes. (Photo: Josh Fox)

Demonstrators outside Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers game hold signs that read "Shame on Komen" to protest the cancer charity's partnership with fracking giant Baker Hughes. (Photo: Josh Fox)

'Shame on Komen': Protesters Charge 'Pinkwashing' over Fracking-Charity Partnership

PR action called off after advocates slammed the national breast cancer organization for teaming up with cancer-causing corporations

Lauren McCauley

"Think before you pink!" chanted dozens of women's health advocates who rallied outside a Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday to protest growing partnerships between national breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen and the polluters who are putting women's health at even greater risk.

Komen's founder, Nancy Brinker, was expected to accept a $100,000 check from the CEO of oil and gas drilling giant Baker Hughes during the halftime of the Steeler's-Colts game. However, the presentation was called off in a move protesters attributed to Komen "feeling the pressure" from a growing critique of their "pinkwashed" breast cancer awareness campaign—a term coined by the group Breast Cancer Action to describe the "cause marketing" of breast cancer with emphasis placed on promoting rather than curing the disease.

On Friday, protesters delivered 150,000 signatures to Komen's Pittsburgh headquarters calling for the group to turn down the donation.

The national breast cancer charity has come under increasing fire from women's health groups who say that Komen's awareness campaign is partnering with corporations whose products are linked to to the very same disease that the charity is reportedly working to promote and cure.

"Pinkwashing publicity stunts serve one purpose," Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, wrote in an op-ed last week. "They generate public goodwill and profits for corporation and nonprofit alike."

Baker Hughes is a Houston-based supplier of equipment for the oil and gas drilling industry including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process for extracting shale oil and gas using a mixture of water and chemicals, including numerous known carcinogens.

Earlier in October, which has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Komen and Baker Hughes announced their partnership with the release of a thousand pink-painted fracking drill bits, which Breast Cancer Action declared was the "most egregious example of 'pinkwashing' they’ve ever seen."

"Pinkwashing publicity stunts serve one purpose: They generate public goodwill and profits for corporation and nonprofit alike."
—Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action

Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter wrote that Komen's relationship with Baker Hughes "is the cherry on top of a chemical-laden, toxic sundae."

"From pink water bottles containing BPAs to pink buckets of KFC containing carcinogenic ingredients, Susan G. Komen has made it clear they are prioritizing their pink bottom line over people they’re supposed to be helping," Hauter wrote.

As Jaggar notes, Komen is not alone in their approach. She writes:

Pinkwashing has become a central component of the breast cancer industry: a web of relationships and financial arrangements between corporations that cause cancer, companies making billions off diagnosis and treatment, nonprofits seeking to support patients or even to cure cancer, and public relations agencies that divert attention from the root causes of disease.

Procter & Gamble has also been slammed for "peddling pink." Organizers have started a petition calling on the company, the largest personal care producer in the world, to end their use of cancer-causing chemicals in their beauty products.

"If you’re in support of a cure for cancer, you would shut down anything that proliferates cancer causing agents in their community," Bekezela Mguni, director at New Voices Pittsburgh, a health nonprofit that advocates for women of color, told NPR.

Mguni, who was among the group who delivered the petition to the Komen headquarters, added: "You would not support anything that damages water and air."

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