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Outrage Continues at Susan G. Komen's 'Frack for the Cure' Pinkwashing Campaign

Fracking

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in what seems to be getting to be a regular occurrence, it's bringing unwanted awareness to the activities of Susan G. Komen for the Cure (SGK), the behemoth of breast cancer charities, founded in 1982.

Breast cancer "awareness" marketing is big business, and no one has benefited more than the Susan G. Komen foundation.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Charges of "pinkwashing"—slapping their pink-ribbon logo on hundreds of items manufactured in their signature hot pink—reached a whole new level earlier this month when a story came out that the foundation had made a deal with Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes to launch a "Doing Our Bit for the Cure" campaign. The centerpiece of the campaign is painting 1,000 fracking drill bits hot pink and packing them with information about breast cancer which presumably the mostly male oilfield workers will devour eagerly. "Baker Hughes supports Susan G. Komen's Mission to End Breast Cancer Forever," the campaign website proclaimed.

"For the second consecutive year, Baker Hughes is donating $100,000 to support Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization," said Baker Hughes. "The year-long partnership with Komen is an extension of the company’s participation each year in the Komen Houston Race for the Cure, where Baker Hughes sponsors the Survivor Pin Celebration. This year, the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide. The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds."

The centerpiece of the campaign between Susan G. Komen and Baker Hughes is painting 1,000 fracking drill bits hot pink and packing them with information about breast cancer which presumably the mostly male oilfield workers will devour eagerly.

Fracking, of course, pumps hundreds of chemicals, many of them known carcinogens, into the environment, so many would assert that ending fracking would be a giant step forward in the campaign to "end breast cancer forever."

This Sunday, Karuna Jaggar, executive director of breast cancer charity watchdog Breast Cancer Action (BCA), will be joining other breast cancer, health and environmental advocates in Pittsburgh where they'll rally outside the Pittsburgh Steelers game from 2-4 p.m. In a bizarre clash of constituencies and yet another example of SGK's tone-deafness, Baker Hughes CEO Martin Craighead is scheduled to present the $100,000 check to SGK founder Nancy Brinker during the game. What will the rowdy, beer-swilling, mostly male football fans make of that? At least they'll cheer loudly for the word "breast."

"Our health is not for sale, and we’ll be saying so loud and clear in Pittsburgh this weekend," said Jaggar. "With these pink drill bits Komen and Baker Hughes have taken pinkwashing to new depths—literally. By poisoning our water, food and air, Baker Hughes is doing more to cause breast cancer than to cure it. And with its poisonous partnerships, Komen provides the perfect pink cover.”

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Breast cancer, health and environmental advocates have been collecting petitions and today they delivered more than 160,000 signatures, gathered in the last two weeks, to SGK executive director Judith Salerno, urging the foundation to refuse the check, end the partnership and fight fracking.

More than 160,000 signatures were delivered today to Susan G. Komen's executive director Judith Salerno, urging the group to refuse the $100,000 check and end the partnership with Baker Hughes. Photo credit: Breast Cancer Action

“It boggles the mind that the Susan G. Komen Foundation would agree to shill in public for a company whose toxic fracking practices can be linked to breast cancer," said Credo campaign manager Heidi Hess. "We stand with Breast Cancer Action in asking Susan G. Komen to refuse to accept the $100,000 it earned to pinkwash fracking and get back to its core mission of raising money and awareness to fight breast cancer.”

For an organization as big, high-profile and well-funded, Susan G. Komen has a knack for getting involved in things that don't further the goal to end breast cancer—or that even clash with it—and angering potential and current contributors. The highest profile debacle was early 2012 decision to end its funding to Planned Parenthood to support PP's breast cancer screening program, egged on by SGK vice president/anti-choice politician Karen Handel on the grounds that the group was "under investigation"—a political witch hunt by a single congressional Republican. That blew up in their face, causing donations to drop 22 percent in the following year and participation in their signature "3-Day" events plummeting so much that some had to be cancelled, with half as many of the events taking place in 2014 as before the controversy broke.

But those aren't the only times SGK has attracted attention for making partnership decisions that negatively impact women's health and their ability to survive breast cancer. In 2010, the foundation was called out for its partnership with fried chicken chain KFC. The chain offered pink "Buckets for the Cure" featuring breast cancer facts, survivor stories and a pledge to donate 50 cents for each bucket purchased. It aimed to raise $8.5 million for SGK.

Barbara Brenner, then-executive director of Breast Cancer Action, said, "KFC locates its stores in the poorest communities where people have limited access to healthy food. Komen for the Cure claims to care about low-income women. Yet they have partnered with a corporation on a campaign that will severely aggravate the condition of women’s health in these communities, not improve it.”

BCA, which sponsors the "Think Before you Pink" website, pointed out that the fatty, calorie-laden, inexpensive food KFC sells appeals heavily to low-income women with high rates of breast cancer as well as obesity, which has been linked to breast cancer. It said, "KFC is currently embroiled in a suit related to their chicken’s high levels of PhIP, a byproduct of the grilling process listed on the state of California’s list of carcinogens. While there is much that isn’t known about PhI—Komen’s representative acknowledged that the NCI has not established safe or unsafe levels for its consumption—it seems both ridiculous and unethical to frame the breast cancer epidemic as something 'curable' through repeated consumption of these ingredients."

The following year, the group again caught flak for its "Promise Me" perfume, which contained galaxolide, a hormone disrupter, and toluene, a neurotoxin banned by the International Fragrance Association. While SGK responded by discontinuing the manufacture of the perfume, they did not recall the existing stocks.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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