The world’s biggest philanthropic foundation is reaping huge profits investing
in companies responsible for causing the problems it tries to solve; its grant-giving
is also doing more harm than good in undermining health and agricultural systems,
distorting national and global priorities, and preventing the necessary paradigm
change that could help secure the future of the planet. Dr.
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“Dark clouds over good works”
The Gates Foundation , the world’s largest,
richest philanthropic organisation founded by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2000,
and doubled in size by Warren Bufflett in 2006, is “dedicated to bringing
innovations in health and learning to the global community”  in order to
enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty. It is indeed famous for giving
hundreds of millions to good causes.
But an investigative report published
in the LA Times at the beginning
of 2007 found that the Gates Foundation “reaps vast financial gains every
year from investments that contravene its good works” . These investments
go to companies responsible for causing the problems the Foundation tries
Investments in oil companies outstrip grants that counteract problems caused
by the companies
For example, while children in the poorest countries
like Nigeria are benefiting from a vaccination drive supported
by the Foundation, they suffer serious respiratory diseases blamed on fumes
and soot spewing from flares of the oil plants whose investors include the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A local physician in Enocha in the Niger Delta says hundreds
of flares at oil plants in the area have caused an epidemic of bronchitis
in adults, and asthma and blurred vision in children. Although no definitive
studies have documented these health impacts, many of the 250 toxic chemicals
in the fumes and soot have been linked to respiratory disease and cancer.
The oil plants in the region find it cheaper to burn nearly 1 billion cubic
feet (~28.3 million m3) of gas each day and contribute to global
warming rather than selling it.
The LA Times found that while Gates Foundation
has donated $218 million to polio and measles immunization and research worldwide,
it has also invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell Exxon Mobil Corp.,
Chevron Corp and Total of France, the companies responsible for most of the
flares that blanket the Niger Delta in a level of pollution beyond anything
permitted in US or Europe.
blame oil extraction for fostering some of the very diseases that the Foundation
is combating. Oil workers and soldiers protecting them attract prostitution,
contributing to a surge in HIV and teenage pregnancy, both targeted by the
Gates Foundation in its efforts to reduce suffering and poverty. Oil bore
holes fill with stagnant water and become ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes
that spread malaria, and investigators for the health commissioner for Rivers
State, Dr. Nonyenim Solomon Enyidah, cite an oil spill clogging rivers as
a cause of cholera; the Foundation is fighting both malaria and cholera. The
toxic by-products of the flares such as benzene, mercury and chromium undermine
immunity to disease making children more susceptible to polio and measles.
The same story
is repeated in Durban, South Africa where the Gates Foundation has sponsored
research on vaginal gels to protect against HIV (but see Concentrating Exclusively
on Sexual Transmission of HIV is Misplaced, SiS 34  for failures of anti-HIV gels),
where children suffer respiratory diseases from industrial polluters, the
worst among which a Mondi paper mill and a giant Sapref oil refinery. The
Sapref plant has had dozens of oil spills, flares, pipeline ruptures and explosions
since 1998, and together with the Mondi plant, pump thousands of tonnes of
foul-smelling chemicals into the air annually, according to their own monitoring.
But the Gates Foundation is a major shareholder in the
companies that own the polluting plants. As of September 2006, the Gates Foundation
holds $295 million worth of stocks in BP and as of 2005, $35 million worth
of stocks in Royal Dutch Shell, which co-own Sapref with BP. The Foundation
also held $39 million investment in Anglo American, which owns Mondi paper
The Gates Foundation
has held large investments in all three companies since at least 2002, and
has seen the worth of BP shares shot up by about 83 percent, Royal Dutch shell
shares by 77 percent and Anglo American shares about 255 percent. It has reaped
much more in financial gains from investments in the polluters than it has
given to the Durban microcide study to fight AIDS, which amounted
to $20 million.
The Gates Foundation
also profited hugely from its holdings in the top 100 polluters in the United
States as rated by the University of Massachusetts and the top 50 polluters
in Canada, as rated by the trade publication Corporate Knights. Its investments
in these companies total about $3.3 billion.
Investing and profiting from anti-HIV drugs while fighting AIDS
The Gates Foundation has
awarded billions of dollars to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, more
than $2 billion for AIDS alone, yet tens of millions of the afflicted in Africa
cannot afford to pay for the patented drugs produced by the pharmaceutical
In 2005, the Foundation held nearly $1.5 billion worth
of stock in drug companies widely criticized for restricting the flow of key
medicines to poor people in developing countries. On average, shares in those
companies have increased in value about 54 percent since 2002.
claim they need price protection for research and development, and in 1994,
they lobbied hard and successfully for international Agreement on Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which made it harder for poor countries
to buy cheap generics instead of brand-name drugs (see Whose Bird Flu Virus is It
Anyways?, SiS 35 ).
Harrington, a senior policy officer at the Foundation said the investment
managers had one goal: financial returns “that will allow for the continued
funding of foundation programs and grant making.” The LA times found that the Gates Foundation has holding in
many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of
environmental lapses, discrimination in employment, disregard for workers
rights or other unethical practices . These include Conoco Phillips, Dow
Chemical C., and Tyco International, ranked among the worst US and Canadian
polluters; pharmaceutical companies that price drugs beyond the reach of AIDS
patients the Foundation has pledged to treat. Some 41 percent of the Gates
Foundation assets have been in companies that countered the Foundations stated
goals or socially concerned philosophy.
“Steal from the future”
Paul Hawken, well-known author of The Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capital and other important works
on socially beneficial and ecological sustainable investments , now directs
the Natural Capital Institute . Hawkens refers to “the dirty secret” of
many large philanthropic organisations that “donate to groups trying to heal
the future, but with their investments, they steal from the future.”
Hawkens and others are especially
critical of philanthropic organisations investing in a company purely for
profit, without attempting to improve the company’s way of operating. The
philanthropic organisations turn a blind-eye to socially and ecologically
At the Gates Foundation, blind-eye
investing has been enforced by a ‘firewall’ that separates its grant-making
side and its investment side . The Foundation recently announced a plan
to formalise that firewall by moving its assets into a separate Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, its two trustees being Bill and Melinda Gates.
The Trust will invest to increase the endowment while the Foundation gives
Many philanthropic organisations are
beginning to address contradictions between making grants to improve the world
and making investments that harm it. Major organisations – such as the Ford
Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller
Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation - now consider social
justice, corporate governance and environmental stewardship crucial in their
investment strategies. Moreover, nearly one-third of philanthropic foundations
take part in shareholder initiatives, voting their proxies to influence corporate
behaviour. The Nathan Cummings Foundation, with an endowment of $481 million,
has sponsored proxies to force corporations to address environmental sustainability
and political transparency. Shouldn’t the Gates Foundation do the same?
the scandal of its investment policy emerged in the LA Times report, the Foundation caused further consternation
in its detailed statement responding to the investigation that no changes
would be made. David McCoy, editor of Global Health Watch, was reported to
have said  that this exposes the hypocrisy of the Gates Foundation and
the double standards that it employs. The Foundation’s enormous wealth is
derived from the very distortions and injustices in the global political economy
that keeps billions of people impoverished. As a private foundation, it is
not really open to public scrutiny for accountability.
Grant-giving policy may do more harm than good by undermining health systems
of poor countries
But even the grant giving activities of the Gates
Foundation is not above reproach.
An article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published in 2007  criticised its
“reluctance to embrace research, demonstration, and capacity building in health
delivery systems”, which is “preventing the Gates’ grants from achieving their
Gates Foundation has awarded a total of $6 billion to global health projects
since 2000, with very little to show for the money. On the contrary, its “vertical
programmes” and “disease specific funding strategies” damage health systems
in developing countries, according to Professor David Sanders, director of
the School of Public Health at the University of Western Cape, South Africa.
They lead to “fragmentation of health systems and distortion of government
said: “Even if governments develop coherent policies and integrated plans
it is quite difficult to hold that line when your big funders – with more
money than those countries’ overall health budgets – want to focus on single
diseases, often using a single technology rather than a more comprehensive
Bill and Melinda Gates see “breakthrough
technologies” as key instruments in global health, and could certainly benefit
research (though not necessarily the right kind of research that would benefit
society), and explained their policy to BMJ as follows: “Effective and affordable
health tools aren’t available for many diseases. For this reason, we have
focused a significant portion of our grant-making on discovering and developing
new vaccines, drugs, and other tools that could save millions of lives.”
the biggest problem is not lack of technology but systems to implement it,
Sanders pointed out. Health systems have been seriously weakened by years
of underfunding as a result of economic crises and “structural adjustment”
(aimed precisely at dismantling publicly funded health systems). The huge
funds injected by donors such as the Gates Foundation to single diseases has
simply exacerbated the problem.
One of the starkest examples is the
Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), established with a grant
from the Gates Foundation in 2001 when worldwide immunisation rates had fallen
and stagnated, in Africa, at a miserable 50 percent. But GAVI’s primary aim
was to entice the drug industry to produce more and new vaccines while old
proven vaccines could not be delivered.
Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Canada chair
in international health at the University of Toronto, said that because the
Foundation only partly funds most initiatives, and selectively picks good
performers, its decisions influence other donors’ choices about where to put
the money, and hence affect global health priorities even more profoundly
than it should.
the same criticism, and more in depth, has come from Laurie Garrett, Senior
Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, writing in Foreign Affairs , and raising the possibility
that charities operating in sub-Saharan Africa – the Gates Foundation prominent
among them – may be doing more harm than good by destabilizing the healthcare
systems that they inject so much resource into. Notably, there is a scarcity
of healthcare workers, especially acute in the least developed countries,
as many of their health workers have been lured to rich developed countries
to make up for the shortage there. Non-government AIDS programmes such as
those operated by the Gates Foundation compete with local health systems for
skilled healthcare providers. The foreign organisations frequently bring their
employee’s effective wages to a hundred times what they could earn at government-run
set up by aid organizations thus attract the scarce supply of medical professionals,
diverting resources from standard clinics and potentially reducing the care
available to the local population, with the result that the countries move
backwards on other general health indicators such as prenatal care and maternal
of setting a hodgepodge of targets aimed at fighting single diseases, Garrett
calls on the world health community to focus on achieving two basic goals:
increased maternal survival and increased overall life expectancy.
Green Revolution for Africa as the Green Revolution is widely blamed for environmental
and social devastation in much of the world
The Gates Foundation funding policy for sustainable
agriculture in Africa is equally misguided.
the end of 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was
created with an initial budget of $150 million, $100 million from the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation and $50 million from the Rockefeller Foundation
.AGRA was a response to the call of African leaders
for a new path to prosperity by spurring the continent’s agricultural development,
and it would also firm up the vision laid out in the African Union Comprehensive
Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), which seeks a 6 percent
annual growth in food production by 2015 through increased use of new technology
and inputs such as fertiliser .
to help small-scale farmers and their families in Africa get out of poverty
and hunger through sustainable growth in farm productivity and incomes. To
do that, it will breed new seeds, get small farmers to use them with more
fertiliser and pesticide input, train more African crop scientists, and develop
an agri-business, a network of African agro-dealers as conduits of “seeds,
fertilizers, chemical and knowledge” to smallholder farmers.
announcement brought strong criticisms from many civil society organisations
and commentators. GRAIN - an international NGO for sustainable management
and use of agricultural biodiversity – was swift in its condemnation :” It is incredible that this simplistic
line of thinking is still followed after so many years of Green Revolution
debate. The whole question of the tremendous environmental damage caused by
the Green Revolution model of agricultural development relying on the lavish
use of water, fertilizer and pesticides is completely ignored and pushed aside.
The soil erosion and degradation caused by the use of chemical fertilizer
and pesticides, and the resulting destruction of agricultural productivity
in Africa are not even mentioned. Instead, the old mantra of new seed and
more fertilizer is repeated. The explosive question of genetically engineered
crops is cleverly avoided in the propaganda which doesn’t mean that it’s not
there: both the Gates and Rockefeller foundations are amongst the most active
supporters of genetic engineering in Africa.”
of genetic engineering may have receded somewhat as Kofi Annan, former UN
secretary general now chair of AGRA, was reported to have said in July 2007
: “We in the alliance will not incorporate GMOs in our programmes. We
shall work with farmer using traditional seeds known to them.” But all the
signs are that Bill Gates is a real enthusiast for genetic engineering biotechnology,
and has invested heavily in it since the early 1990s (see Box ).
GRAIN also criticised AGRA for totally ignoring the central role of
local communities, their traditional seed systems and indigenous knowledge,
and rather than building on local knowledge and biological diversity, it has
decided to replace it with “improved varieties” .
The failure of the Green Revolution is precisely
that technological advances in crop genetics for seeds that respond to external
inputs go hand in hand with increased socio-economic inequality and greater
food insecurity; which has been growing more dramatic recently.
pressure from international and bilateral trade instruments, especially under
the World Trade Organization and the impending Economic Partnership Agreements
with the European Union, African governments are increasingly opening up their
markets to competition against the heavily subsidised food and other agricultural
produce dumped into their countries by the US and the EU. Earlier structural
adjustment programmes imposed by the world's financial institutions, such
as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, had already forced
African governments to dismantle public agricultural research and extension
programmes and to drop all protection and incentives for their small farmers.
The same African governments are then forced by the same agencies to devote
their most fertile land to the growing crops for export to the North, thus
pushing small farmers off their land and food production altogether.
Many of the measures now
destroying African farming are being supported, if not instigated, by the
very corporations whose charity foundations are now coming to Africa’s rescue
with further technology programmes of the Green Revolution, and possibly worse:
the reliance on the private sector as the main vehicle to deliver the goods
and control the process. A substantial part of the funding for AGRA is earmarked
for seed companies and agro-dealers to get the seeds and the chemicals to
the farmer. This approach fits well with Rockefeller’s agricultural programmes
in Africa, a major element of which is the development of private seed companies.
And Bill Gates’ vision for Africa follows the same line.
Gates and biotechnology
Gates has publicly declared himself “very excited” in biotechnology as an
area to invest in, and has done so at least since the early 1990s, beginning
with the recruitment of Leroy Hood, developer of automatic gene sequencing
machines, from Caltech to the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1991
with a gift of $12 million to the University to create a new department
in its medical school . This was followed by a combination of not-for-profit
programmes and for profit investments in biotechnology.
Not-for-profit projects include the Bill and Melinda Gates Children’s
Vaccine Program focusing on vaccines that protect children against respiratory,
diarrhoea and liver disease, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health
(PATH), an institution dedicated to improving the health of women and children
throughout the world, with 19 offices in 14 countries, and designated as
a Collaborating Centre for the World Health Organisation in three areas:
research in human reproduction, AIDS, and hepatitis B vaccination, and GAVI,
the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, established in 2000 with
an initial grant of £750 million by the Gates Foundation, and a further
$750 million in 2005 
For profit investments made by Bill Gates include $50 million in Corixa
Corporation in 1995, GlaxoSmithKline acquired the company in 2005, and Gates
received a payout of $300 million. Darwin Molecular Corporation was established
by Gates and others in 1992, and acquired by Chiroscience R&D/Celltech
in 1996. ICOS Corporation was founded in 1990 with Gates as one of the largest
shareholders. Rosetta Inpharmatics, inc., established in 1996 by Gates and
others, and was acquired by Merck in 2004 for $540 million.
GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are major vaccine developers, dovetailing nicely
with Gates’ not-for-profit programmes promoting vaccines.
According to the African Centre for Biosafety , the Gates Foundation
is currently supporting at least eight genetic engineering projects relevant
to Africa totalling US$75 million, involving academics or companies in USA,
UK, Germany or Australia, and only one of which has explicitly named collaborators
in African countries. The funding is equally split between four projects
aimed at genetic engineering insect vectors that transmit malaria, Trypanosomiasis
and Dengue, and four aimed at producing “nutritionally enhanced” crop plants
using a combination of selective breeding and genetic modification.
ISIS has warned of the dangers of transgenic mosquitoes and other insects
since 2001 [17-19] (Two Takes on Malaria, ISIS News
11/12; Stop Release of GM Insects!ISIS News, 9/10; Terminator insects
unleash genome invaders with wings, ISIS Report), pointing out that
simple cost-effective measures against malaria such as insecticide-treated
bed nets have been neglected . Professor Chris Curtis from the London
School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK has expressed similar
views regarding the recent announcement of the creation of a transgenic
mosquito that resist infection by the malaria parasite .
Stealing the future, preventing
the very paradigm change needed for sustainability and an end to poverty and
have been taking over the role of publicly funded development programmes .
Development aid is shrinking, while private fortunes, and the need to give
money away through corporate philanthropy, are booming. AGRA is the latest
in a series of large private charities donating to Africa. George Soros pledged
US$50 million for the Millennium Villages Project to help rural villages in
Africa out of poverty. Bill Clinton’s foundation had pledged fertilizers and
irrigation systems support to Rwandan farmers. And before that, another US
ex-president, Jimmy Carter, teamed up with a Japanese tycoon to launch the
“Sasakawa 2000” project to bring seeds and fertilizers to Africa. Charity
foundations of companies such as Dupont, Syngenta and Monsanto have been penetrating
the international agriculture research system for a while, bringing the threat
of GM crops, despite Kofi Annan’s disavowal on behalf of AGRA.
Gates Foundation is currently worth over US$ 66 billion, more than the gross
domestic products of 70 percent of the world’s nations. It gives away some
5 percent of its worth every year to avoid paying most taxes, leaving the
other 95 percent for investments . Thus, it has an influence on global
policies far exceeding any national or international organisation.
charities such as the Gates Foundation will ultimately determine whether we
survive global warming as both energy and food production are failing to keep
up with consumption. We are running out of time and resources, including intellectual
and human capital, now squandered by the misguided policies of the corporate
Through a combination of aggressive investments in the most socially
exploitative and environmentally destructive companies to reap the greatest
profits, and a largesse in grant-giving that in reality serves to promote
the same private enterprises, the Gates Foundation and other major philanthropic
corporations are stealing our very future. They are locking the world in the
destructive, unsustainable status quo
that has brought our planet to the brink of extinction and, worst of all,
preventing the necessary paradigm change that could save us, when we have
all the means at our disposal [24,
25] (Which Energy?,
ISIS publication; How
to Beat Climate Change & Be Food and Energy Rich - Dream Farm 2, SiS 35).