The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Who Really Benefits From Global Giving of Billionaires Like Bill Gates?
As the world's political and economic elite gather to discuss their top concerns at the annual Davos summit 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, productive lives."
However, the new report—Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation Always a Force for Good?—argues that regardless of good intentions or motivations, the foundation's "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 justice. 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 south."
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 global health and 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 U.S. 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, including Monsanto, 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 genetically modified, 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 programmes 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 Gates Foundation. We argue that this is far from a neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalization. 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 effective.
"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 justice. 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 population. In total, the report confirmed, the richest 1 percent of people now own more than the bottom 99 percent combined.
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," Oxfam's Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said, "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 system."
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."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation have decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive:
By Jeff Turrentine
Is it just us?
Other countries don't seem to have a problem getting their high-speed rail systems on track. This superfast, fuel-efficient form of mass transit is wildly popular throughout Asia and the European Union. Japan's sleek Shinkansen line, the busiest high-speed rail system in the world, carries an estimated 420,000 riders every weekday. In China, the new Fuxing Hao bullet train now hurries more than 100 million passengers a year between Beijing and Shanghai at a top speed of 218 miles an hour, allowing its riders to make the trip of 775 miles — roughly the distance from New York City to Chicago — in about four and a half hours. Spain, Germany and France together have more than 4,500 miles of track dedicated to high-speed rail, over which more than 150 million passengers travel annually.
By Coda Christopherson (11) and Lea Eiders (15)
Growing up in a plastic-free home, I was sheltered from the plastic waste crisis. I (Coda) went to a very progressive school that had vegan lunch items, farm animals and ran on solar power. My mom produces zero-waste events and my dad is a sailor, so we're very passionate about the ocean. When I was nine years old, we moved back to Manhattan Beach, California and I started 3rd grade in a public school. This was the first time I really understood that plastic-free living is not the norm; single-use plastics were everywhere, especially in the cafeteria. Once I recognized this problem, I knew I had to make a difference.
Henry Avocado issued the recall Saturday after a routine government inspection at its California packing facility turned up positive test results for the bacteria on "environmental samples," the company said in a statement. No illnesses have been reported.
Oil executives gathered for a conference laughed about their "unprecedented" access to Trump administration officials, according to a recording obtained by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In the recording, taken at a June 2017 meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) at a Ritz-Carlton in Southern California, members expressed excitement about one official in particular: David Bernhardt, who had been nominated that April to be deputy secretary at the Department of Interior (DOI). Bernhardt would be confirmed the following month.
"We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues," IPAA political director Dan Naatz said in the recording.