Gates Foundation doing more harm than good


Richard Moore

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ISIS Press Release 30/07/07
Philanthropy Gates Style

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. Mae-Wan Ho

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"Dark clouds over good works"

The Gates Foundation [1], 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" [2] 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" [3]. These investments go to 
companies responsible for causing the problems 
the Foundation tries to solve.

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 

Local leaders 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 [4] 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 mill.

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 giants.

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.

Drug companies 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 [5]).

Monica 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 [3]. 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 [6], now directs the 
Natural Capital Institute [7]. 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 irresponsible practices.

At the Gates Foundation, blind-eye investing has 
been enforced by a 'firewall' that separates its 
grant-making side and its investment side [3]. 
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 grants.

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?

After 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 
[8] 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 [8] criticised its "reluctance 
to embrace research, demonstration, and capacity 
building in health delivery systems", which is 
"preventing the Gates' grants from achieving 
their full potential."

The 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 
health priorities."

Sanders 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 approach."

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."

But 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.

Much 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 [9], 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 clinics.

Operations 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 health.

Instead 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.

There is also disturbing evidence that grants are 
given to private industry even when the 
innovation and research had been developed and 
funded entirely by the public sector [10] (Gates 
Philanthropy, Stem Cells for Mending Damaged 
Heart, SiS 35)

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 

Towards 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 [11]. 
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 [12].

AGRA intends 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.

The 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 
[13]:" 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."

The threat 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 [12]: "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.

Under 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 

Gates and biotechnology

Bill 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 [14]. This was 
followed by a combination of not-for-profit 
programmes and for profit investments in 

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 [15]

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 
[16], 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 

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 
[20]. 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 [21].

We have also warned against GM crops for food and 
feed in general [22] (GM Food Nightmare Unfolding 
in the Regulatory Sham, ISIS scientific 
publication), and those enhanced in single 
nutrients are additionally hazardous because many 
of the nutrients are known to be toxic in 
overdose [23] (GM Crops and Microbes for Health 
or Public Health Hazards? SiS 32).

Stealing the future, preventing the very paradigm 
change needed for sustainability and an end to 
poverty and inequality

Corporate charities have been taking over the 
role of publicly funded development programmes 
[13]. 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.

The 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 [3]. Thus, it has an 
influence on global policies far exceeding any 
national or international organisation.

Corporate 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 charities.

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).


Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? New 
Reprint with Extended Introduction and Update by 
the Author

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