Avon 39 A Cosmetic Attempt To End Breast Cancer

The “Walk to end breast cancer” may raise up to $5 million for the Avon Foundation, but does it really walk the walk to fund mammograms and treatment?

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Pink powers its way all across San Francisco this weekend as nearly 2,000 walkers will participate in the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer, the Bay Area version of the 39-mile walk held in seven U.S. cities. Last year’s two-day Avon 39 San Francisco event raised $4.4 million for the Avon Foundation for Women, and Avon 39 events nationwide have had similar success. But does this corporate-named, Big Charity fundraiser really walk the walk to provide screening, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer? Or is it just a feel-good marketing event for Avon cosmetics?

Unlike its predecessor the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, which originally also benefited the Avon Foundation but has not been held in the Bay Area since 2014, Avon 39 is literally named after a for-profit, Fortune 500 corporation. Some charity events like the AIDS Walk or AIDS/LifeCycle actually name their cause, even in their shorthand title. The fact that Avon 39 chooses to name the event for a billion-dollar corporate brand is worthy of a little side-eye.

But that’s just a cosmetic complaint about the name. To assess whether Avon 39 really benefits the care, support, and research programs it purports to fund, we can turn to the charity  analysis nonprofit Charity Navigator.

Charity Navigator gives the Avon Foundation an average rating of two stars out of four stars. That’s not a great rating, but it’s not terrible either. Basically, 77 cents of every dollar raised by the Avon Foundation goes toward treating and curing breast cancer.

This compares to 81 cents per dollar for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, 86 cents per dollar for the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, and 91 cents per dollar for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. In other words, there are more effective breast cancer charities out there.

The bigger concern with the Avon Foundation may be pinkwashing, or “cause marketing” by corporations whose products still contain cancer-causing toxins.  “Each year, the Avon Foundation puts on multi-day breast cancer walks in cities nationwide,”  Breast Cancer Action notes on their Think Before You Pink blog. “But Avon Products, the multi-billion dollar cosmetics corporation behind the foundation, uses chemicals in its makeup that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Avon has long been targeted by activists to remove from its cosmetics cancer-linked ingredients like methylparaben, a chemical that has been found to increase breast cancer risk and interfere with breast cancer treatment.”

All of that said, there is no question that this weekend will be an exhilarating and empowering experience for the survivors, volunteers, and everyone walking in Avon 39. They are likely to raise nearly another $5 million for breast cancer grants. This reporter will note that only around three-fourths of that total is likely go to breast cancer charities and grants. But this reporter will also spend the weekend on the couch drinking beer and watching reality television, while Avon 39 walkers are doing something a heck of a lot more powerful.  

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