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Breast intentions hijacked by big biz?

Sabrina Maddeaux says some companies latching onto all that is pink during Breast Cancer Awareness month are fooling you. They're in it for profit. GETTY

Sabrina Maddeaux says some companies latching onto all that is pink during Breast Cancer Awareness month are fooling you. They're in it for profit. GETTY

SABRINA MADDEAUX/ 24 HOURS

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is inarguably one of the most successful awareness and fundraising campaigns in recent history.

Every October, our world becomes swathed in pink to show solidarity with survivors, encourage women to get checked and raise money for life-saving research.

Everyone from local mom-and-pop shops to corporate behemoths - and even NFL players - participate in the month-long pink marathon.

While widespread support comes with its perks, it also creates a problem experienced by other causes ranging from green-friendly initiatives to hurricane relief.

When the entire world goes pink, how do you separate those truly supporting the cause in a meaningful way from those looking to make a quick buck or generate trendy publicity for their brand? Most of us have heard of greenwashing: a form of spin in which green PR or marketing is deceptively used. It's now time to raise awareness about pinkwashing.

When trying to support a worthy cause such as breast cancer awareness, it's easy to succumb to seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses, assuming everyone has the best of intentions.

Unfortunately, there are many shades of grey in the pink sea.

Some efforts are downright sketchy.

For example, Chiquita puts pink ribbon stickers on bananas but, by its own admission, donates no money to any breast cancer-related foundations.

Other brands, like Yoplait and New Balance, have been called out by pro-transparency org Think Before You Pink for telling consumers that a portion of profits from sales will go to charity, but put a cap on the total donation amount. Once they reach that cap, they apparently pocket profits unbeknownst to consumers who think their purchasing dollars are supporting a cause.

Other campaigns can generously be described as ironic and more accurately be painted as downright hypocritical.

Car companies put forward pink campaigns while contributing to pollution that can be a factor in breast cancer. Just about every beauty brand jumps on the pink bandwagon, but many continue to use dangerous ingredients (such as parabens and phthalates) in their products that, according to the American Cancer Society, can also disrupt hormones and lead to breast cancer.

Even some breast cancer orgs land on the wrong side of the cause. Susan G. Komen, still the largest breast cancer charity, has a long record of controversial actions covered by the likes of Daily Beast, The New York Times and CNN. Komen has partnered with companies that hawk products with cancer-causing ingredients, supports fracking for gas and oil, cut their Planned Parenthood funding in 2012 and has been criticized for its ties to pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies. According to the company's tax documents, top executives make salaries well into the six figures and Ken Berger, CEO of Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities, has gone on the record calling Komen's CEO's salary "extremely high."

It's important consumers do more than buy pink. They need to educate themselves, read labels and hold companies to higher standards.

Locally, there are some great examples of pink-branded initiatives to buy into this month. Cycling studio SPINCO will hold a charity ride on October 29 with all proceeds going to breast cancer research via the Canadian Cancer Society.

Additionally, all proceeds from their Monday 6:30 p.m. time  slot for the month will also go to the charity. Not only are they donating all proceeds instead of a few measly dollars or cents, SPINCO encourages healthy, active lifestyles.

Another local champion is Rethink Breast Cancer, which focuses on awareness and support campaigns for young women who may be left behind by traditional breast cancer organizations. They host their annual Boobyball fundraiser this Friday at Rebel with a '80s and '90s-inspired "Get Physical" theme. Also look for partnerships between Rethink and local designers like Jenny Bird, Smythe and Knixwear that give back to the cause and support indie female-led Canadian design that tends to be more sustainable and ecofriendly than large international brands.

There are certainly other brands and events that get Breast Cancer Awareness month right. This year, take a few extra minutes to make sure your dollars are going to the cause rather than opportunist pink poseurs.

Want to read more from Sabrina? Follow her on Twitter @SabrinaMaddeaux