Pride Month: Corporate rainbow washing


Photo courtesy of Keith Haring

Pride month celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and its allies who work towards promoting equality. However, as with anything in today’s economically-driven world, corporations exploit Pride month for personal benefit. Many companies across the world utilize Pride month to market products by creating pride related merchandise or collections. 

Moreover, this tactic has been effective: most companies report much higher sales in the quarter while customers gain a false sense of fulfillment that they are somehow contributing more to the cause than they actually are. Some companies do contribute to funds that are put towards unique problems that LGBTQ+ people face. For example, J. Crew donates 50 percent of their earnings from pride gear towards LGBTQ+ charities and Nike’s BETRUE campaign donates millions of dollars of their earnings from pride merchandise towards supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

On the other hand, most examples tend to show that commercializing Pride month would be ethically wrong. Capitalizing off of the peoples’ struggles and successes to achieve further branding and economic gains paints most companies in the wrong, taking advantage of Pride month. It is not right for companies to leech off of the activism, struggles and successes of the community to gain benefits without positively contributing. Some companies even negatively contribute to the LGBTQ+ community: Adidas sells Pride merchandise on their website, but they are also a proud sponsor of the World Cup which takes place in countries that are anti-LGBTQ+. By supporting Adidas, one may be indirectly supporting anti-LGBTQ+ laws and regulations. Adidas, being one of the main world cup sponsors, can easily step up and create change; however, it has not. One of the main examples was Russia, where the 2018 World Cup took place: existing regulations made being LGBTQ+ unsafe for fans and athletes. Similar scenarios exist within many companies that have manufacturing plants in China, where anti-LGBTQ+ laws are actively supported. However, it is important to distinguish that P ride collections and merchandise are not completely bad. The issue starts when large companies exploit the cause and wring it for profits, considered to be rainbow washing.

It is true that companies are, at the very least, contributing to the awareness of Pride month and the LGBTQ+ community. However, members of the LGBTQ+ community critique this notion by stating that they are striving for actual change, which is to be contrived from awareness. If companies are going to utilize Pride for profit, they should not feel hesitant to better the lives of the very community they are profiting from. Furthermore, companies have found this opportunity to be “slacktivists,” giving companies and consumers low-effort methods to support the cause. This may seem like a win-win situation, before unveiling that most companies only contribute to change by bringing vague awareness rather than donating to charities or starting campaigns. Awareness is only a small part in true and impactful change. In reality, although companies claim to be supporting the cause, for most, they tend to prioritize monetary profits.