Pinkwashing

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Here’s something to infuriate you. And damn, we should all feel angry about this. I read this post this week. When I finished, I was literally shaking with anger. Jane and Acacia have already said everything I wanted to say about Pinkwashing, but I wanted to write my own post to help spread the word about this and hopefully get etsy to respond properly. So here is what happened.

Acacia received this email newsletter from etsy, where Nicole Smith, who is part of etsy’s marketing and merchandising team, compiled a round-up of pink-themed wares, supposedly to raise awareness about breast cancer. Only, that wasn’t really the tone of this email. Gathered are many wares and sellers that only seem to have one thing in common: they are pink. Acacia went through these one by one, and pointed out how few of them actually donated money to cancer institutions and research. Even more troubling is at the bottom of the email, Nicole Smith suggests you browse more pink-themed wares that have nothing to do with actually raising awareness or funds for cancer research.

So there you have it, we have a business like etsy using cancer as an opportunity for marketing, promotion and colour-theming decor. This is crass and disgusting and deeply insensitive. This is called Pinkwashing. It’s deplorable for any company to do it, but even more disappointing to see a website and business like etsy do it. Indie websites present themselves as alternatives to the mainstream – as businesses who are keen to offer a shift in the paradigm of how we buy and sell, offering a supposedly more ‘ethical’ approach. But just as I’m noticing that indie blogs and magazines just end up replicating and copying the mainstream magazines in the name of consumerism (with no paradigm shift), we are now witnessing indie businesses pulling the same unethical stunts that we gladly criticise in bigger businesses. You can’t have it both ways. If we’re going to criticise big businesses for doing this kind of stuff, we have a responsibility to highlight when indie businesses do it too.

As Jane pointed out, etsy’s response was marketing-speak. I hope to see a better and more sensitive response from them. And I hope to see them actually respond to Acacia’s previous requests that they stop doing this (she’s told me it’s not the first time she’s raised this issue of Pinkwashing with them). This is why I’m writing this post. I have been personally affected by cancer with someone I know, it’s a brutal disease. It is not an opportunity to sell pink shit and create a consumer industry that does very little to actually raise funds or awareness in the name of this disease.

I want to finish by copying and pasting a portion of my comment on Acacia’s original post, as well as providing a few books, articles and DVDs suggested to me to learn more about Pinkwashing:

1) This is blatant opportunistic and exploitative marketing on etsy’s part. Cancer is here used as a marketing ‘tool’ to sell ‘pink decor’ that has nothing to do with actually raising cancer awareness or contributing money to cancer institutions and research – it’s just an avenue to sell more stuff. I find it disgusting that etsy would use the issue of cancer awareness to try and push ‘pink-themed’ wares, as if a devastating disease is a design decor or a ‘style’. Have we lost all sense of empathy and sensitivity in this online haze of superficial ‘style inspiration’ and colour-theming? Some things should be sacred, and should not be allowed to be turned into yet another avenue to admire pretty things and sell more shit to people.

2) If a company or a business is going to promote anything in relation to cancer awareness, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to only showcase products and sellers who clearly donate to cancer institutions or research – and who state clearly how much will be donated and to where this money will specifically go. Otherwise, it’s exploitation of people’s suffering and a disease in the name of consumerism.

* DVD: Pink Ribbons, Inc.
* Article: ‘Cancer Butch’ by S. Lochlann Jain
* Book: Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich
* Article: ‘Welcome to cancerland: A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch’ by Barbara Ehrenreich

Thank you to Acacia, Sara, Rebekah and Helen for suggesting all of the above.

23 comments:

Jane Flanagan said...

Thank you so much, Hila, for adding your voice to this important discussion. The more of us making noise, the more hope I have that Etsy will be forced to respond in some way. However, they should not have to be "forced" to respond. It should only take one e-mail from a person like Acacia to elicit a compassionate and considered response. My respect for Etsy as an organization has completely evaporated.

The only think I would like to add is that the onus to make donations does not only rest with the seller of pink products, but Etsy themselves as they profit off every transaction. If they're using it as a marketing tool and even if they did only include products that make a donation, they should be doing likewise.

Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

disgusting.

Hila said...

Good point Jane! You're completely right - the onus is on etsy too to donate.

What can I say Jane, I'm losing faith in this indie 'community'. We shouldn't have to write such posts, and Acacia shouldn't have to deal with this crap, on top of dying from cancer. The world really does suck sometimes. I want to see them send her a proper response with real compassion, and I want them to stop doing this - to use their brains before they compile pretty-pretty decor themed round-ups like this. I'm over it all.

Nancy: yes, and I know you understand.

ronnie said...

never having used (or actually even visited anything) etsy I was totally unaware of this (or indeed the term 'pinkwashing' - what a shocker! sometimes I wonder about people..... I really do.

Sundari said...

I'm always skeptical of 'pink' products - it seems like a good idea but I'm sure there's money in there for the companies to appear to be ethical and noble. Good on you for writing this post.

Sarah Rooftops said...

I usually like to look for the other side of the story, but there really isn't one here - using somebody else's suffering for your own publicity and profit is, at best, thoughtless and tactless. To continue to do so after your mistake's been pointed out to you is simply disgusting.

Acacia said...

Thank you so much for bringing this to the attention of your readers. October is a lousy time for a lot of people with breast cancer, especially those of us who will never be "survivors."

Breast cancer has become the frilly feminine shopping disease (leaving out completely them men who suffer from it.) The people who buy the pink mean well but the best thing to do if you want to help is donate directly to organizations that fund research to find a cure or provide services that make patients' lives a little easier.

You have a strong, wonderful heart Hila, thank you.

becka said...

Great post, Hila. I totally agree with Jane that Etsy has a responsibility to be donating their cut from the sales. Which, I highly doubt (I'm sure they would have shouted it from the rooftops if they were). As an Etsy seller, this makes me feel really uncomfortable and gross.

My grandmother had breast cancer and thankfully her treatment worked, however she is really into anything pink ribbon-ish which I find quite hard. Of course, she has the right to process her illness and support cancer in whatever way she chooses, but I'd love to figure out a way of bringing up the issue of pinkwashing with her (she has a pink ribbon scrabble set, for goodness sake) in a sensitive way to really get a feel for her thoughts on it.

Danielle P. said...

This kind of behaviour is unjustifiable and utterly nauseating.

helen tilston said...

Hello Hila

I join Acacia, Jane and your good self in your disappointment and disgust at this marketing practice by Etsy.

It is a sad, sad day indeed!

Thank you for bringing this to the fore.

Helen

Tracey said...

This is truly awful Hila ... pinkwashing has been something that has deeply troubled me for a while now, and it's completely disgraceful that a company like etsy would do this. I'll be interested to see whether etsy provides a more thoughtful response, or whether they'll just hope this issue 'goes away'. Dreadful.

Gabriela said...

This is despicable. I don't use etsy, so I hadn't heard about it and it's too sad and hard to believe.

Rambling Tart said...

Having just lost a dear friend to cancer, this makes me ill. :-( It would take so little effort to make this a beautiful and helpful project instead of the crass sham that it is. Thank you for speaking out.

Teresa said...

This really is horrible. I hope Etsy provides some sort of decent reply in response to this.

Looking Glass said...

I completely agree with everything you have said. I feel disgusted by this. I have been very closely affected by cancer with my Father, as many people have, and it truly worries me that this is what advertising has come to. Thank you for this post!

~ Clare x

Michal said...

As someone who has lost more than one person to cancer, I have tears in my eyes just thinking about a company I have (had?) respect for exploiting awareness of the disease. I saw you tweet this article the other day and was furious. As consumers, it's important for us to bring corrupt behavior to light (so thank you!) and then follow through by putting our money where our mouth is and supporting those that act ethically.

rooth said...

I really really really don't like it when people use causes as a marketing scheme and I really think that pinkwashing in the States has gone a little too far. We understand what it's all about but if you donated that money directly to breast cancer research, I believe it would be a better use. There are plenty of advocacy organizations out there already and now we need to focus on addressing the actual ailment

Sally said...

Some of the responses on the Etsy forum are so disappointing. I'm so tired of the "sorry you were offended" attitude running rampant on the internet, as if it's okay to brush off pain you have caused as an "opinion." It amazes me sometimes that people can lack the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes for just one minute.

But, I'm just ranting about what we're all already feeling. Thanks for this to you, Jane, and Acacia, I've shopped on Etsy for a long time and now I'm definitely reconsidering any future patronage.

Hila said...

Ronnie: I wonder too!

Sundari: I think we've pretty much moved beyond the idea that this pushing of pink products onto consumers raises 'awareness'. It stinks of exploitation at the moment (unless actual donations are made).

Sarah: I completely agree. Even more baffling is Etsy's insensitive response (or lack of one until they were forced to offer a canned response from public attention about the issue). They've proven themselves more corporate than 'indie' as an organisation.

Acacia: It doesn't take much strength for someone like me who isn't dying from cancer to write a post about this and feel outraged. But it takes a huge amount of strength for someone like you who is dying to write about this. So I applaud you - you're the one who should be thanked. I have a huge amount of respect for you, and I'm glad you brought this issue to so many people's attention.

Hila said...

becka: Yes, people have a right to process and deal with their own illness in their own way. It becomes a different issue though when businesses profit from this, or use it as 'marketing'.

Danielle: Agreed!

Helen: It is all incredibly sad.

Tracey: Their 'response' was rather pointless. And I'm aiming to now support the sellers I like and admire on etsy on their stand-alone shops/sites instead.

Gabriela: I did use etsy, so this was horrible to read.

Rambling Tart/Krista: I'm so sorry about your loss! It seems that so many people have been touched by this terrible disease.

Teresa: They haven't really, sigh.

Clare: I'm worried too by what marketing and consumerism have become. There seems to be this idea that they shouldn't be tied to ethics - that's insane to me.

Hila said...

Michal: I intend to follow through and put my money where my mouth is. I can only hope etsy chooses to reconsider, offer a decent response and behave differently in the future.

Rooth: Exactly! I couldn't have put it better myself. It has gone too far, it's becoming an industry exploited by everyone. Maybe it was naive to expect more out of etsy, but I did.

Sally: "Some of the responses on the Etsy forum are so disappointing. I'm so tired of the "sorry you were offended" attitude running rampant on the internet, as if it's okay to brush off pain you have caused as an "opinion."' So true! I was appalled by some of the comments by etsy sellers about this on that forum, and some of the irrational and amoral defences. I don't want to paint all etsy sellers with one brush however, as of course there are many wonderful sellers who have been appalled by this too. But some of the comments I read sounded completely insensitive and strange to me. I guess I shouldn't be surprised though - they have a vested interest in defending etsy.

cerebral e said...

Most "pink" produucts from big brands only donate the tiniest margin to breast cancer charities. There was an episode of Gruen about it a couple of years ago.

Unless you were going to buy that product anyway (eg buying a "pink" deodorant if you need new deodorant) I always think the safest thing is to donate directly to the charity.

Hila said...

cerebral e: I missed that episode, I wish I hadn't. To me it also seems more logical to donate money directly to patients or cancer research/charity. This 'pink industry' has gotten completely out of hand and just seems like opportunistic consumerism and marketing.