WASHINGTON -- Susan G. Komen for the Cure has gone through the biggest public relations crisis of its 30-year history during the past week. The breast cancer charity stopped funding Planned Parenthood for America, reversed that decision and then announced the resignation of the socially conservative vice president who was at the center of the firestorm.
Its problems, however, aren't going to end here. Komen now has the tough task of rebuilding trust among its donors, affiliates and network of breast cancer survivors, who for years have seen the group as not political and devoted to the singular mission of fighting breast cancer. Komen's corporate partners are a critical group.
The Huffington Post attempted to reach out to all of Komen's 196 corporate partners. Thirty-five of them responded, with seven declining to comment on the matter. While a few companies said they were reviewing their partnership with Komen in light of the controversy, nearly all said they were going to stick with the foundation. Still, many expressed concern that the apolitical organization they signed up to sponsor was no longer so.
RE/MAX began its partnership with Komen in 2002 for very personal reasons: Several people at the real estate company have been affected by breast cancer, including its CEO.
"RE/MAX is not a political organization," said Shaun White, vice president of corporate communications. "We do not support particular candidates. We do not support particular political causes -- we never have. We hate to see politics get involved in something like this. So we were very pleased to see Komen reverse itself and go back to its existing policy. We hope that takes the politics out of this whole thing because our no. 1 goal is to fight breast cancer."
On Monday, White told The Huffington Post that a Komen representative from a local affiliate was going to be at RE/MAX headquarters on Tuesday -- a visit planned prior to the controversy -- and he was hoping to "get a little briefing from them on what their plans are and what's going to happen."
"We're very concerned about it," he reiterated.
A spokesman for Chesapeake Bay Candle said the company was also troubled by the Komen controversy. "We are deeply concerned about Komen's decision to stop most of its financing of Planned Parenthood and welcome the reversal of this decision on February 3. We have reached out to Komen executives to confirm their future commitment to provide access to breast cancer screenings to all women and currently deliberate if and how to continue our partnership with the organization," said the spokesman.
Eva Wong, the "minister of enlightenment" for the Republic of Tea, said her company was considering whether to continue its partnership, which dates back to 2001.
"The Republic of Tea recognizes Susan G. Komen for the Cure's apology to the American public," Wond said. "The Republic of Tea has a long history of supporting the fight against breast cancer. We have received feedback from our Citizens (customers), and we conveyed that feedback directly to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and we are currently reviewing our Sip for the Cure program."
Many companies may be reluctant to break the Komen connection because their own philanthropic identity is tied up in the partnership. Quite a few of Komen's corporate partners highlight the connection on the front page of their website, and Otis Spunkmeyer even talks about Komen in its hold "music" on the phone. The question for companies now is whether that partnership is still supports their image.
ACCUSED OF 'PINK-WASHING'
Komen, which did not return a request for comment, has had a complicated relationship with its corporate sponsors. In 2010, for example, the foundation and Kentucky Fried Chicken launched Buckets for the Cure. KFC promised to donate 50 cents to Komen for every bucket of chicken sold, with the ultimate goal of contributing $8 million. But the partnership generated significant criticism because eating fatty foods high in calories has been linked to breast cancer.
There was a similar controversy last year when Komen commissioned a perfume called Promise Me. Funds from the sale of the perfume go toward breast cancer research, but an advocacy organization said that some of the chemicals in the concoction were linked to cancer in animals and hormone disruption.
Breast Cancer Action is the leading group behind these Komen criticisms. Ten years ago, it launched the Think Before You Pink campaign to shine a light on "pink-washing" -- that is, using the iconic breast cancer pink ribbon to sell products with ingredients that are known or suspected to increase the risk of cancer.
Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, hopes that Komen will use the current controversy as a reason to take a step back and look at its larger strategies.
"Komen is in a unique position to urge companies that want to partner with it to take steps to make sure its products are safe," said Jaggar. "That's an opportunity for Komen, right now, as it evaluates its own giving, to take a look at where it's getting its money and the standards it's going to apply to that -- not only the standards that it's applying to its gift-giving."
"When we tell people to take a look at pink-ribbon products, we're not simply saying, 'Don't buy them' or 'Don't support breast cancer,'" she added. "The issue is not that breast cancer has too many resources. The issue has to do with the allocation with those resources and accountability, transparency and efficiency."
Many corporations -- and not necessarily ones that are, by Breast Cancer Action's definition, pink-washers -- are eager to continue their partnership with Komen.
A spokesperson for Conde Nast Publications, which runs Rally for the Cure, told HuffPost, "We are pleased that there has been a resolution to the controversy as Conde Nast and other brands have long supported women's health initiatives, including the 1992 Founding of the Pink Ribbon by SELF magazine and Evelyn Lauder. We're proud to continue our support and coordination for Rally for the Cure."
Companies may not be drawing back from Komen in part because, while a significant amount of public pressure targeted the charity over the past week, there seems to have been less pressure on its corporate partners.
A couple of petitions were started on Change.org aimed at Komen's sponsors, but they really didn't take off. Although a few corporations said they received some negative feedback, most reported little to none.
Since the Planned Parenthood controversy broke, Komen has put together plans to hire some high-profile public relations firms and figures to help with the damage control.
Ariel Edwards-Levy contributed to this article.
SEE the full list of responses from Komen's corporate sponsors on the following page:
Click here for the full list of Komen corporate sponsors. Armouth, Exhale, Hewlett-Packard, Honest Tea, IOGEAR, Microsoft and Opal Orthodontics declined to comment when contacted by HuffPost. The other responses are below:
Ansell Health Products: "Following up on your question with regards to our partnership of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I can confirm to you that Ansell has no intent to review its partnership." -- Wouter Piepers, global communications director
Boston Trading Co.: "They [Komen] have reversed their decision." -- Sheryl Quindley, customer service
Candy Coburn: "Our official statement below reflects the purpose of 'Pink Warrior' when it was released to inspire people in the fight against cancer 2009. That purpose remained unchanged when 'Pink Warrior' continued to inspire through 2010 and 2011, through January 31, 2012. We stand behind this statement today." -- Magda Russell, Right Time Promotion
"We are interested in doing what we can to help people fighting BREAST CANCER. 'Pink Warrior' is about bravery, and love, and support and hope. Its purpose is -- and always has been -- to bless people who need it. We hope that it will be used in a positive way by anyone who is in the fight against cancer. We hope people will let the song be exactly what it is -- a song. Let it be a song for hope, a song that speaks to and strengthens people who are in the fight of their lives ... a song of support and love."
Caterpillar: "The Caterpillar Foundation uses an outcomes-based investing model for all philanthropic investments worldwide. One of those investments involves the Susan G. Komen Foundation and is specifically directed for early detection programs for breast health for disadvantaged women in Latin America and Central Illinois. These funds are directed to ensure disadvantaged women have the education and access to the care they need to detect and prevent breast cancer, ultimately leading to a decrease in the breast cancer mortality rate." -- Jim Dugan, chief corporate spokesman
Caribou Coffee: "Caribou Coffee has a personal connection to providing support for women suffering with breast cancer. In 1995, our original and beloved Caribou roastmaster Amy Erickson unfortunately lost her battle with the disease. For the past 17 years, we have provided donations to various organizations and have committed to make an annual evaluation of how our donation will best reach women that need support and care. We have not made a decision for how our 2012 donation will be used.
Amy's Blend remains at the center of Caribou Coffee's philanthropic effort and last year the company donated 10 percent of all Amy's Blend product proceeds to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As part of our Amy's Blend program, we have also donated to various organizations. We will continue to honor Amy by carefully evaluating how our donation will have the most impact in 2012." -- Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing and product management
Chesapeake Bay Candle: "Chesapeake Bay Candle is committed to the fight against breast cancer. We believe all women should have access to breast cancer screenings. It is for those reasons that we joined forces with Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 2010. We are deeply concerned about Komen's decision to stop most of its financing of Planned Parenthood, and welcome the reversal of this decision on February 3. We have reached out to Komen executives to confirm their future commitment to provide access to breast cancer screenings to all women and currently deliberate if and how to continue our partnership with the organization." -- Company spokesman
Conde Nast Publications: "We are pleased that there has been a resolution to the controversy as Conde Nast and our brands have long supported women's health initiatives, including the 1992 Founding of the Pink Ribbon by SELF magazine and Evelyn Lauder. We're proud to continue our support and coordination of Rally For The Cure, a breast health awareness program that helps educate women about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. Rally supports volunteer-organized golf, tennis and social events that facilitate fundraising activities for Susan G. Komen. Conde Nast is an advocate for women's health and expression, and we are proud to support organizations that help women live their healthiest lives." -- Company spokesperson
Deluxe Checks: "Yes, we are listed as a corporate partner of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. One of the options we offer our customers is a pink check design which has the Susan G. Komen for the Cure logo. We donate 10% of the purchase price of these products to that organization to support the fight against breast cancer." -- Terri Shapiro, executive director, brand and media relations
Forever 21: "As you probably know, we work with many organizations each year so that we can give exposure to multiple groups and at this time have not made a decision with regards to who we will work with for BCA 2012." -- Company spokesperson
Garden State Growers: "We only worked with [Komen] the one year. We have not received any issues. We are now working with the National Breast Cancer Research foundation for unrelated reasons." -- Kristine Lonergan, sales and marketing director
General Mills: "We remain committed to the fight against breast cancer, and we will continue to partner with organizations that will have the greatest impact in that fight." -- Gregory Zimprich, director of brand public relations
Helzberg Diamonds: "Our planned sponsorship was complete as of September 2011." -- Amy James, customer care
Igloo: "We are hoping that their retraction will make the issue a moot point. We only received a handful of requests to reconsider and those were not from our regular Facebook fans." -- Sue Miller Payton, director of marketing
Interfresh: "No, we're not reconsidering our relationship with Komen; we still believe in the cause. Nor have we heard any comments one way or the other with regard to the recent controversy." -- Chris Puentes, president
Jersey Mike's Subs: "Last year we conducted a fundraising program with Susan G. Komen for the Cure which culminated in October 2011. Our customers, franchise owners and team members were moved by the stories of breast cancer survivors including those of our own family members and friends and we are proud to have contributed to finding a cure.
An important part of the Jersey Mike's mission is to give back to our local communities and last year we supported hundreds of charities by raising more than $2 million for great causes. Our focus right now is on our 2nd Annual Month of Giving in March, which will raise needed funds for more than 75 local children's charities throughout the country. Last year, we raised more than $600,000 for local charities through our Month of Giving celebration and we hope to do even more this year." -- Josephine Capozzi, vice president, franchise relations
KeyBank: "Our relationship with Komen is through a four-year grant made last year by KeyBank Foundation to support the training of Community Health Advisors -- individuals who will be specially prepared to help reach out to medically underserved communities in 18 cities across the nation where Key has a presence. The focus is on providing breast health education and screening to what will eventually be more than 100,000 women, many of whom will be minorities. We will continue to focus on strengthening the communities where we live and work by strengthening the health of residents." -- Lynne Woodman, vice president, media relations, who added that KeyBank had "heard almost nothing on our Facebook page" about the controversy
Mobile Edge: "We are pleased that the Komen Foundation has revised their recent policy change and will continue to support Planned Parenthood. We look forward to continuing our efforts to raise funds for Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the important work that they do towards eradicating breast cancer." -- G. David Cartwright, president and CEO
Mrs. Baird's Bakeries: "Mrs Baird's supported the fight against breast cancer through the Susan G. Komen organization in late 2011. The company has not finalized its plans in this area for the second half of 2012." -- David Margulies, spokesman
NBC 'Today' Show: "TODAY's only relationship with Komen is the pink 'Forward' ring that Hoda Kotb wears is sold in the NBC Experience Store with net profits going to Komen. Beyond that, there isn't any partnership." -- Megan Kopf, spokeswoman
Otis Spunkmeyer: "Our intention is to be somewhat apolitical about our contributions. We've identified two charities that resonate with our employees and customers: Komen and Make-a-Wish. If we had our druthers, we'd 'druther' that neither became embroiled in political controversies. ... Based on the circumstances, we are content to support them [Komen]. They made a decision, which they subsequently reversed. It seems to me there's a lot of political controversy within Komen. You sort of scratch your head, and say, you're distracting from what's really important by doing things like that." -- Steve Ricks, spokesman, who added that the reaction the company has received to the controversy has been mixed on Facebook and Twitter
Pepperidge Farms: "We ended our corporate sponsorship with Komen at the end of 2011 for business reasons." -- Geri Allen, manager, corporate and brand communications
Phillips: "We currently don't have any partnership activity with the foundation." -- Mark Stephenson, spokesman
Princess Cruises: "In response to recent news reports, we have been asked if Princess Cruises will continue to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Princess passengers have generously contributed to the fight against breast cancer since 2007, by participating in the Susan G. Komen On Deck for the Cure 5K walks held aboard each Princess cruise. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has confirmed that the funds currently raised by these walks are earmarked for breast cancer research -- most recently including two research projects at UCLA and the Stanford University School of Medicine. We recognize that our passengers and employees may have their own views on individual charitable organizations, but it is our intent is to continue offering this unique opportunity to participate in the fight against breast cancer. We appreciate those who choose to participate in the walks, and fully respect those who elect not to." -- Karen Candy, manager of media relations, public relations
RE/MAX: "RE/MAX is not a political organization. We do not support particular candidates. We do not support particular political causes -- we never have. We hate to see politics get involved in something like this. So we were very pleased to see Komen reverse itself and go back to its existing policy. We hope that takes the politics out of this whole thing because our no. 1 goal is to fight breast cancer." -- Shaun White, vice president of corporate communications
Republic of Tea: "The Republic of Tea recognizes Susan G. Komen for the Cure's apology to the American public. The Republic of Tea has a long history of supporting the fight against breast cancer. We have received feedback from our Citizens (customers) and we conveyed that feedback directly to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and we are currently reviewing our Sip for the Cure program." -- Eva Wong, minister of enlightenment, who added the company had heard "both positive and negative feedback from our Citizens"
SodaStream: "The extent of the impact of this story was a small handful of consumer emails. Sorry, we cannot comment on the rest of your inquiry." -- Yonah Lloyd, executive director, corporate development and communication
United States Bowling Congress:"USBC has no plans to change its relationship with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. We received a few comments from members last week, but the feedback volume was not significant. -- Jason Overstreet, managing director of communications
Wacoal America: "Throughout our 12-year history with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, our priority has always been and will continue to be breast cancer education, awareness and research. Our annual programs have served to provide valuable information to numerous woman about the disease as well as fund research to eradicate breast cancer. At this time, we are committed to furthering this education and our partnership with Susan G. Komen. We are not commenting on their partnerships at this time." -- Liz Smith, vice president of marketing