by Jon Queally
January 20, 2016
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, argue
its critics, is relentlessly promoting
big business-based initiatives such as
industrial agriculture, private health
care and education.
many of these programs are actually
exacerbating the problems of poverty and
lack of access to basic resources that
the foundation is supposed to be
Is the Bill & Melinda
promoting the interests of
at the expense of social and
As the world's political and economic elite gather to discuss their
top concerns at the annual Davos summit (World
Economic Forum) in the Swiss Alps and with
attention this week focused on the scourge of economic inequality, a
new report begs questions about the potentially disastrous role the
super-wealthy are playing when it comes to addressing key problems
of global inequity, endemic poverty, and international development.
Released on Wednesday, the study by the UK-based social justice
group Global Justice Now takes a specific look at the impact of the
world's largest philanthropic charity, the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation (BMGF), to assess how large-scale private giving may be
"skewing" how international aid works.
In its conclusion, the report argues
that what may look like altruism on a grand scale may actually mask
a sinister reality about how the billionaires of the world insulate
their personal fortunes while using their out-sized influence to
project their private ideologies and further financial interests.
The result, the report suggests, is that
many of the people and communities who such charities purport to be
helping, may actually be worse off in the long run.
With more than $43 billion in assets, the Gates Foundation is often
lauded as a global force for social good that uses its vast
financial resources to launch initiatives and support existing
projects in order to, according to its mission,
"help all people lead healthy,
The new report, however - entitled
'Gated Development - Is the Gates
Foundation always a Force for Good?'
- argues that regardless of good intentions or motivations, the
"concentration of power is
undemocratically and unaccountably skewing the direction of
international development" which in turn is "exacerbating global
inequality and entrenching corporate power internationally."
As Mark Curtis, lead researcher
and author of the report, explains in the introduction:
Analysis of the BMGF's programs
shows that the foundation, whose senior staff is overwhelmingly
drawn from corporate America, is promoting multinational
corporate interests at the expense of social and economic
Its strategy is deepening - and is
intended to deepen - the role of multinational companies in
global health and agriculture especially, even though these
corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and
injustice that already plagues the global south.
Indeed, much of the money the BMGF
has to spend derives from investments in some of the world's
biggest and most controversial companies; thus the BMGF's
ongoing work significantly depends on the ongoing profitability
of corporate America, something which is not easy to square with
genuinely realizing social and economic justice in the global
Polly Jones, head of campaigns
and policy at
Global Justice Now, highlights why the foundation's unique role
as a private organization is so troubling when it comes to putting a
check on its enormous influence on the world stage.
"The Gates Foundation has rapidly
become the most influential actor in the world of
agricultural policies, but there's no oversight or
accountability in how that influence is managed," argues Jones.
"This concentration of power and
influence is even more problematic when you consider that the
philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely
based on the values of corporate America.
The foundation is
relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as
industrial agriculture, private health care and education.
But these are all potentially
exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic
resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating."
Based on a careful review of the
charity's behavior, the report offers these specific criticisms of
the Gates Foundation:
The relationship between the
money that the foundation has to give away and Microsoft's
tax practices. A 2012 report from the US Senate found that
Microsoft's use of offshore subsidiaries enabled it to avoid
taxes of $4.5 billion - a sum greater than the BMGF's annual
grant making ($3.6 billion in 2014).
The close relationship that BMGF
has with many corporations whose role and policies
contribute to ongoing poverty. Not only is BMGF profiting
from numerous investments in a series of controversial
companies which contribute to economic and social injustice,
it is also actively supporting a series of those companies,
Dupont and Bayer through a variety of
pro-corporate initiatives around the world.
The foundation's promotion of
industrial agriculture across Africa,
pushing for the
adoption of GM, patented seed systems and chemical
fertilizers, all of which undermine existing sustainable,
small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of
food security across the continent.
The foundation's promotion of
projects around the world pushing private healthcare and
education. Numerous agencies have raised concerns that such
projects exacerbate inequality and undermine the universal
provision of such basic human necessities.
BMGF's funding of a series of
vaccine programs that have reportedly lead to illnesses or
even deaths with little official or media scrutiny.
In Jones' forward to the report, she
explains why the ideological underpinnings of the foundation - often
overlooked or ignored in mainstream assessments - are essential to
understanding the downside of BMFG's powerful influence:
[This report] demonstrates that the
trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality
is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda
We argue that this is far from a
neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological
commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and
Big business is directly
benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and
health, as a result of the foundation's activities, despite
evidence to show that business solutions are not the most
For the foundation in particular,
there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty.
While technology should have a role in addressing poverty and
inequality, long term solutions require social and economic
This cannot be given by donors in
the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but
must be about systemic social, economic and political change -
issues not represented in the foundation's funding priorities.
Earlier this week, Oxfam International
released a report showing that economic inequality across the
globe has soared to such heights that now a mere 16 individual
billionaires, including Bill Gates, own more wealth than the 3.6
billion people who represent the poorest half of the world's
In total, the
report confirmed (below insert), the richest 1% of people now
own more than the bottom 99% combined:
An Economy For the 1%
How privilege and power in
the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped
The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The
richest 1% now have more wealth than the rest of the world
combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic
system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest.
A global network of tax havens further enables the richest
individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty
will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.
These shocking levels of unequal
distribution of wealth are the cause, say experts, of increasingly
intractable poverty levels in places like sub-Saharan Africa and
across the Global South.
"The richest," said Oxfam's
executive director Winnie Byanyima, "can no longer pretend their
wealth benefits everyone - their extreme wealth in fact shows an
ailing global economy.
The recent explosion in the wealth
of the super-rich has come at the expense of the majority and
particularly the poorest people."
Last week, as Common Dreams
reported, international watchdog group
The Global Policy Forum
put out its own critical report critical regarding the impacts of
large philanthropic foundations and charities.
Employing the term "philanthrocapitalism"
to described the phenonomen, the report argues that the,
"influence of large foundations in
shaping the global development agenda, including health, food,
nutrition, and agriculture" raises "a number of concerns in
terms of how it is affecting governments and the UN development
And the intersection between outrageous
levels of inequality on the one hand and the rise of powerful
private foundations on the other shows how interlocked these
phenomenons have become.
As Gary Olson, professor of
political science at Moravian College in Pennsylvania,
wrote recently at Common Dreams,
"The one thing that Big
Philanthropy must overlook is the green elephant astride the
boardroom's conference table, the economic system that causes
and extends [economic and social] injustices in perpetuity."