(Partial) Credit Where (Partial) Credit Is Due: Susan G Komen's Response to Raise A Stink

It's no secret around these parts that I am vehemently not a fan of Susan G Komen for the Cure.  So when Think Before You Pink (a most excellent org dedicated to exposing pinkwashing and calling companies to account for their pinkwashing ways) launched their campaign Raise a Stink!, asking Komen to recall and reformulate their Promise Me perfume so that it no longer contains galaxolide and toluene, two toxins that have been shown to increase risk of breast cancer (irony FTL?), I was all over that.  I sent off the email to Komen, not really expecting to hear back, or expecting to receive a news update from TBYP at a later date.  To my surprise, however, the following email landed in my inbox this afternoon:

Thank you for your email to Susan G. Komen for the Cure® about the Promise Me fragrance. The fragrance was designed especially for Susan G. Komen for the Cure by TPR Holdings, which is donating $1 million to Komen annually for breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment programs. The funds raised through the sale of the perfume will be put to good use in the pursuit of that goal.  

Our first concern is always the safety and well-being of women and men facing this disease. To that end, our partners’ products are subject to review by our Medical and Scientific Affairs team, which evaluated the perfume’s ingredients, the latest research, and guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

According to our research, the ingredients found in Promise Me are within fragrance and cosmetic industry standards, and at these levels have not been shown to elevate breast cancer risk in people. At Susan G. Komen for the Cure, we support evidence-based medicine, that is, decisions based on current facts and knowledge.  In addition, we make this information available to our constituents, respecting that they are intelligent consumers who make informed decisions about the use of products based on evidence. As new research and new findings are published, we will certainly take them into account. 
Nevertheless, at Komen’s request and to be sensitive to these concerns, the manufacturer agreed to reformulate the perfume. The last batch of the perfume was manufactured in May of this year; we expect manufacturing and sale of the reformulated product to begin in early 2012.  We do not intend to ask the manufacturer to recall or remove unsold products.
Komen has always believed that ending cancer requires research about how it begins and how it might be prevented, which is why Komen  has invested more than $65 million to prevention research and an additional $7 million supporting 18 projects investigating environmental estrogens, pesticides, steroid hormones, and nitrites/nitrates and their relation to breast cancer.
We’re also taking action for clarity and consensus around the direction that environmental research should take in the future, which is why we requested – and are funding – a $1 million study by the Institute of Medicine to answer that question. We expect IOM’s recommendations in December, along with IOM’s assessment of evidence-based strategies for individuals to reduce their risk of breast cancer. 
Komen is strongly committed to addressing breast cancer through science, advocacy and community and global outreach to achieve our mission to end breast cancer, forever. 
...Hmmm.  Well, good and not good, in spades.
  • -1 for excessive use of PR-speak padding "HEY THEY'RE GIVING US A MILLION BUCKS AND WE'RE GOING TO DO STUFF WITH IT" which contains the inevitable undertone of "it's for a good cause so you shouldn't discourage it!" (and we all know how well that goes over with me)
  • -1 for "industry standards" and the little dig about "evidence-based medicine" which implies that those of us who are unhappy about this are just being alarmists.  I would think that an org dedicated to "ending breast cancer forever" might want to be a bit more strict about the use of even potentially risk-increasing chemicals than "industry standards" allow.  "Industry" as a whole is about making money, not being safe, and we've all seen what happens when those two goals come into conflict, haven't we?  So yes, I do expect better from a dedicated cause org like Komen than a cop-out about "industry standards".
  • -1 for "make this information available and let you decide" as a brush-off.  Part of the point was that independent lab testing found these chemicals, and they were not listed on the label as ingredients.  So no, that's not making information available.  Even if it was, do you really think it's fair to expect your constituents to have at their fingertips the information about chemistry and the research on these particular chemicals to know what they do or their hazards?  If that were the case, why have FDA restrictions on cosmetics and fragrances at all?  Put whatever you want in there, as long as it's on the label so consumers can "make informed decisions based on evidence", right?  The point of standards at the manufacturing level is so that your average person doesn't have to have a degree in cosmetic science to understand what they're putting on their skin.  Since you commissioned the perfume, upholding that standard is your responsibility, and as I said, "industry standards" is not an acceptable cop-out here.
  • +1 for requesting that it be reformulated.  Yay!  That was the first part of what we were trying to do, so awesome!
  • -1 for not asking the manufacturer to even so much as pull unsold stock.  Even if you don't want to go to the trouble of a recall, don't sell any more of it, FFS.
  • -1 for even MORE defensive PR-speak and swinging their Mighty Fundraising And Money-Spending Dick around for everyone to see.  Do I give a shit about what else you've invested and how much?  Not particularly, no.  I was contacting you to address a particular issue, to which you've devoted a single small paragraph out of several so far.  Stick to the point, please.
  • -10 for absolutely no hint of apology anywhere, not even a Politician's Nonpology of "we're sorry if it bothered you" or anything.  If you're willing to back down enough to have the product reformulated, shouldn't you be willing to apologize for it?  Of course, given the context of defensive PR and reformulating without pulling unsold stock of the old formulation, I'd bet the decision to reformulate is, in essence, a token "shut the activists up" concession.  In which case, no, they're not going to apologize, because they're not sorry, they just want people to shut up and will do the absolute minimum required to make that happen.
It's good that they're having it reformulated.  However, that's pretty much the only good part to this, and while that was the main goal of Raise a Stink, the manner in which Komen has responded has still left an unpleasant stench for me.  I remain unconvinced of their value as a worthy organization.  No donations for you, Komen.

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