A third long-term negative consequence of consumption philanthropy is that it obscures the ways
that markets produce some of the very problems—physical, social, and environmental—that
philanthropy attempts to redress. In
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
, Samantha King describes the paradox of
some pink ribbon products: labels on the outside that promote breast cancer awareness and
research, but chemicals on the inside that cause the disease in the first place. So consumers buy,
say, a $6 SpongeBob Pink Pants toy to help fight cancer, not realizing that this product—a
frivolous item—also likely creates the toxins and other environmental hazards that help cause
Consumption philanthropy seldom calls on consumers to question the labor that went into the
creation of these products. Do these allegedly responsible corporations pay their workers a living
wage? Do they create safe working conditions? Do they make fair contracts? Product Red may
be donating money to fight disease in Africa, but it isn’t doing enough to protect the workers
who make its products, says Bristol, U.K.-based nonprofit Labour Behind the Label. Although
Product Red partner Gap has worked diligently over the years to improve its ethical practices and
image, for instance, the apparel company still runs afoul of both international regulations and
activists: Two years ago, London’s Observer found children making Gap clothing in sweatshops
in India. Cause-marketing items may be no worse than ordinary products, but they appear to be
no better, either.
Finally, consumption philanthropy rarely questions the act of consuming or the environmental
havoc that more and more products wreak. Did the energy used to create that Endangered
Species Chocolate bar destroy another acre of rain forest, and therefore hasten the endangerment
of yet another species and the warming of the planet? Was that SpongeBob Pink Pants toy really
worth the petroleum—and the environmental degradation that came with extracting, refining,
and transforming it—that went into it? Rather than raising these questions about our purchases
and their consequences, consumption philanthropy encourages people to buy more by making
them feel better about it.
In short, consumption philanthropy lulls people into a false sense of doing good through their
purchases, even as they are potentially doing harm through their purchases. Indeed, in many
cases, consumption philanthropists are exacerbating the very harms they wish to reduce. At the
same time, consumption philanthropy feeds the systems and institutions that contribute to many
social problems in the first place.
a A year after this article was published, Komen teamed up with KFC to