Rainbow Washing: What is it – and what can you do?

Rainbow Washing
Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / SatyaPrem

Rainbow washing is a marketing strategy used by companies to exploit the rainbow flag as an advertising tool. You can find out what is problematic about it in this article.

The rainbow flag is considered a symbol of tolerance and acceptance of the diversity of life forms. That is why it has a particularly great symbolic power for the LGBTQIA+ community.

This was evident, for example, at the European Football Championship in Munich in the summer of 2021. In response to a controversial law passed in Hungary, the Bavarian capital wanted to light up the Allianz Arena in rainbow colors during a match against the Hungarian national team. Hungarian law severely restricts information about homosexuality and transsexuality and prohibits companies from educating people about it or advertising it. However, the European football association UEFA rejected the rainbow lighting, citing the organization’s religious and political neutrality as the reason. UEFA’s decision was heavily criticized, particularly by the LGBTQIA+ community.

Showing or not showing the rainbow flag can be a very clear statement. However, when companies simply exploit this for marketing purposes, it becomes problematic – then rainbow washing takes place.

What is rainbow washing?

A company is engaging in rainbow washing when it advertises its products or services using the rainbow flag or rainbow colors without showing any genuine interest in the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community. Especially in June, when LGBTQIA+ communities around the world celebrate Pride Month, it is a popular advertising tool for companies that want to use the rainbow to build a progressive corporate image. Rainbow washing is a form of social washing that companies use to pretend to be diverse and to care about social injustices.

The US retail group Walmart serves as an example of rainbow washing. Walmart sells Pride products and publicly shows solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Last summer, however, it became known that Walmart had supported anti-queer politicians with several million dollars.

In this case of rainbow washing, not only is there a claim to solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, but behind the scenes there is even anti-LGBTQIA+ lobbying going on.

Why is rainbow washing problematic?

Rainbow washing often occurs during Pride Month.
Rainbow washing often occurs during Pride Month.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / rihaij)

When the fashion industry produces rainbow clothes and cosmetics manufacturers put rainbow packaging on creams and shampoos, it creates awareness for the queer community and, ideally, contributes to educating society.

However, if companies only advertise with the rainbow during Pride Month, the LGBTQIA+ community benefits less than the company. Because engagement during just one month of the year only creates short-term attention and not structural change. However, this would be necessary so that the queer community not only remains in society’s consciousness in the long term, but also so that society can eliminate the many hurdles, problems and human rights violations that LGBTQIA+ communities around the world continue to face. Therefore, longer-term and structural measures are needed to achieve more justice, tolerance and equality.

Diversity is profitable

A Finnish study shows that rainbow washing is not worth it.
A Finnish study shows that rainbow washing is not worth it.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / StartupStockPhotos)

A 2021 Finnish study shows that an LGBTQIA+-friendly work environment has a positive impact on company performance. As a result, a socially progressive corporate culture leads to higher profitability and stock market valuation.

This should therefore be an incentive for companies not only to engage in rainbow washing, but to seriously commit to diversity within the company.

The Pride Index, created by the Uhlala Group, shows that some companies have already committed to such an endeavor. The index ranks employers from various industries based on their measures for queer employees and is based on surveys on, among other things:

  • an inclusive language
  • Training to raise awareness among employees or
  • dealing with discrimination in the workplace.

How to recognize Rainbow Washing

It is not always easy to recognize rainbow washing.
It is not always easy to recognize rainbow washing.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / rihaij)

It is not easy to distinguish rainbow washing from serious interest and commitment.

The following points can be indications of rainbow washing:

A company

  • only advertises with the rainbow in June.

  • has not launched any queer-friendly initiatives.
  • does not donate to queer-friendly organizations.

  • actively recruits queer employees.

  • only advertises with the rainbow flag in LGBTQIA+ friendly countries.
  • supports anti-queer organizations or individuals.
  • hardly or not at all includes queer employees.
  • does not employ queer employees.

To be able to recognize some of these indicators, it is necessary to look closer and not be blinded by a company’s loud advertising campaigns. Therefore, you should invest a little time in deeper research to make sure that a company’s commitment does not turn out to be marketing after all.

What you can do against rainbow washing

Pink washing is often used synonymously with rainbow washing.
Pink washing is often used synonymously with rainbow washing.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / marijana1)

For example, wearing a rainbow flag t-shirt shows your solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, but you may only be supporting the company you bought the t-shirt from.

Here’s what you can do to truly support the queer community:

  • Talk to your friends and family about LGBTQIA+ to raise awareness and counteract discrimination based on sexual orientation.
  • You can donate to or even get involved with a queer-friendly organization.
  • Be sure to research the company you are buying a rainbow product from so you don’t inadvertently support rainbow washing.

By the way: Pink washing is often used synonymously with rainbow washing. The transitions between the two concepts are blurred and woke washing also has similarities.

The term “pink washing” was coined by US pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies that advertised their products with pink ribbons, the symbol of commitment to fighting breast cancer. However, the products were suspected of causing breast cancer.

Other forms of social washing are: green washing and blue washing.

Read more on Techzle\.com:

  • LGBTQ – 6 films and series you should know
  • Relationships: Monogamous, polygamous or LAT? The future of partnerships
  • Feminist literature: These 4 feminist books you should have read

** marked with ** or orange underlined Links to sources are partly affiliate links: If you buy here, you are actively supporting Techzle\.com, because we then receive a small part of the sales proceeds. .

Recent Articles

Related Stories