Bill Gates: Corporate Philanthropist

Bill Gates, Big Pharma, Bogus Philanthropy

Many people admire Bill Gates for his intelligence, entrepreneurial spirit and, most recently, his philanthropy. That is all well and good, but we mustn’t forget that he is a relentless capitalist who, throughout his life, dedicated his efforts to only one purpose: making a ridiculous sum of money. Let us also not forget that corporations are, by law, required to do everything possible to maximize their profits and therefore, every single action they take should be viewed as a money-making scheme. Sometimes this means repairing or improving their image through seemingly charitable actions that are designed to allow them, in the long term, to exploit more people without scrutiny or resistance.

Humanitarian Imperialism: Charity for Power

The same day Pope Benedict XVI resigned from his post, New York’s wealthy Mayor Michael Bloomberg inaugurated a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Pope and Bloomberg’s announcements on February 28, 2013 were probably unrelated; nevertheless they underlined a victory of corporate over religious charity. As the Catholic church’s credibility plummeted, the Pope publicly admitted his defeat.Evidently, what the Pope cannot do, the super-rich will try. With the world’s 13th richest man Michael Bloomberg on board, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation represents an unprecedented and rapidly growing collaboration of the world’s wealthiest men, including Carlos Slim, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Cyrus Poonawalla: all of whom have devoted most of their lives to acquiring their billions. Does this signal late-onset altruism or something else?

The Gates Foundation's Leveraged Philanthropy: Corporate Profit Versus Humanity on Three Fronts

Guest post by Chemtchr. Part One of Two. Part Two is here.
Philanthropy wonk Lucy Bernholz defines the buzzword leverage
as "the idea that you can use a little money to access a lot of money."
It's hard to think of the Gates Foundation's $26 billion leverage effort
as "a little money", especially since it's been spread over the globe to gain access to vastly more resources than it contributes, including U.S. tax dollars, the foreign exchange of emerging African nations, and United Nations funds for international development and world health.
Gates' leveraged philanthropy model is a public-private partnership
to improve the world, partly through targeted research support but principally through public advocacy and tax-free lobbying to influence government policy. The goal of these policies is often to explicitly support profitability for corporate investors, whose enterprises are seen by the Gates Foundation as advancing human good. However, maximum corporate profit and public good often clash when its projects are implemented.

I Am Puzzled by the Gates Foundation

WHO under siege from private sector

Tom Fawthrop
Reflecting on the growing public concern about the World Health Organisation’s linkages with the corporate world, Tom Fawthropwonders whether world health policy is in danger of falling into the clutches of the unelected gnomes of Davos.
IT was symbolic of the crisis facing the United Nations’ World Health Organisation that billionaire Bill Gates, the Chairman of Microsoft, was the special guest speaker addressing last year’s World Health Assembly (WHA) of WHO member states.
This followed from Gates’ previous address at the 2005 edition of the WHA. Commenting on the then unprecedented invitation extended to Gates to deliver a keynote speech at the WHA, the People’s Health Movement (PHM) viewed it as ‘part of an alarming trend of various UN organisations, including WHO, kowtowing to global multinational corporations under the guise of the “Global Compact” and so-called “Public-Private Partnerships”‘.
‘It is time to either declare Microsoft a WHO member country, or stop the shameful promotion of global corporations at important UN meetings,’ said a PHM spokesperson.
The membership of the PHM is made up of doctors, public health specialists and health activists committed to the principles of free universal health systems.
While Gates was ostensibly invited to the 2011 WHA in his capacity as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, activist groups say that the line dividing his philanthropy from his links to pharmaceutical interests and his company’s business strategy is very thin.
Many corporate giants have been adopted by WHO since 2010, as private sector partners working together for ‘better global health’.
The origins of this public-private sector partnership process can be traced to WHO’s chronic funding problems. Over 80% of its budget is based on emergency services and voluntary contributions, as opposed to compulsory financial commitments from member states.1
Hence, in the WHO search for extra resources, the private sector came up with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The private-sector-funded Global Fund has emerged as a new player on the increasingly fragmented field of world health alongside the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, and other charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Australian health researcher David Legge points out: ‘The reform proposals that [WHO Director-General] Margaret Chan took to the WHA in 2011 had clearly been discussed in advance with Bill Gates. They came up with a package that included an evaluation of WHO and a proposal for a “World Health Forum” to include drug companies, the development banks, and big foundations.’
Naturally Chan needed to reassure member states that WHO, in ‘the interest of safeguarding public health’, was ‘not afraid to speak out against entities that are far richer, more powerful, and better connected politically than health will ever be’, adding that ‘we need to maintain vigilance against any real or perceived conflicts of interest’.
But the question is: have her actions in promoting public-private partnerships been at odds with her speeches on defending the basic mandate of WHO to promote the public health interest on the global stage?
Whatever the role of the Director-General, the private sector package presented by Chan has raised much concern among member states.
There is little doubt that Chan understands to some degree the conflict of interest posed by private sector forces ranged against the WHO commitment to public health systems, in contrast to their promotion of privatised healthcare. The principle of partnership with the private sector has created a dangerous blurring between dedication to public health on one side, and the ambivalent role of philanthropy and the private sector on the other. In the case of the private sector Chan seems to think that it can be wooed away from its role in profiting from global health problems and made to share the burden of funding solutions.
Nowhere was this contradiction more evident than at the UN General Assembly special meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) held in New York in September.
The problems arising from WHO sharing the same bed with private corporations became very obvious during the meeting. That’s because non-communicable diseases – such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and emphysema – are deeply entangled with important global industries, not only tobacco but also food, pharmaceuticals, advertising, transportation and construction. And NCDs are the planet’s biggest health problem, responsible for 63% of all deaths each year, with incidence growing steeply in the rapidly urbanising low-income nations of the world.
A Washington Post report queried: ‘What is the responsibility of rich countries, and the pharmaceutical companies located in them, to improve medical care in poor countries, where 40% of deaths from non-communicable diseases occur before age 60?’
At a UN meeting in June billed as an opportunity for charities, NGOs and the public to voice their views on the outcome document of the September NCD summit, the tabled speakers included representatives of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, the International Food and Beverage Alliance, and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry.
Among those attending the September meeting itself on behalf of ‘civil society’ were industry representatives, according to the BMJ (British Medical Journal). The journal also reported that GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and the Global Alcohol Consumers Group were included within the official US delegation. And one well-attended breakfast for conference delegates was hosted by PepsiCo.
Over 100 NGOs and medical groups signed a petition in July saying that there needed to be a code of conduct with industry, as there was a ‘lack of clarity of roles for the industry sector in UN health policy setting and shaping’.
‘Our position is that partnership isn’t the right word. It implies trust and respect,’ said Patti Rundall, who has helped run the campaign against the marketing of baby formula for the last 30 years. ‘The allegiance of the food companies is to create profits. Their voluntary commitments are only good for as long as they want to keep them,’ she said.
The Davos-inspired assault on WHO  
During the 1980s the World Bank effectively sidelined WHO as the primary influence on health policies of governments of the South. The Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) imposed major cuts to public health services. At the same time privatisation of healthcare was assiduously promoted.
Today key areas of public health and policymaking across the globe such as prevention of disease, strengthening public health systems and primary healthcare – the key terrain of WHO and the responsibilities of member states – are being coveted by private interest groups led by the new ‘rulers of the world’ known as the World Economic Forum.
It is all part of the WEF’s Global Redesign Initiative to rebuild institutions and mechanisms of global governance, according to Garance Upham, a researcher on health issues.
Upham, who delivered a lecture at the International Association of Health Policy – Europe conference held in Ankara, Turkey last year, explained that the WEF advocates a new governance paradigm for dealing with global health issues which requires a drastic reform of WHO.
The WEF, which holds its high-profile annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland, argues that ‘The model of development characterised by donors and recipients is dead … In place we need to think about collective responsibility. A world where an increasing number of stakeholders should have a role in shaping and making policy is a given. Governance does not equal governments alone.’
Indeed WHO and public health is not only about governments. Other stakeholders are doctors, nurses, patients and communities, but these stakeholders are missing or marginalised in the Davos blueprint. The Davos-distorted definition of ‘stakeholders’ is clearly set out in the proposal to establish a World Health Forum, perhaps modelled on their very own WEF.
The Davos group is advocating that private donors to global health campaigns should enjoy more or less equal seating alongside WHO in formulating policymaking and supervising global health initiatives. All this is coming at a time of growing economic crisis, with many governments only too eager to cut back on health budgets and their contributions to WHO.
It perhaps comes as no surprise that, along with Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, Peter Brabeck, a former CEO and current Chairman of Nestle, is a board member of the WEF.
Upham argues that all this would downgrade WHO from its vital role in intervening to control epidemics, supervising international health standards and promoting primary healthcare, to a more humble role mediating between major donors to the Global Fund, private medical charities like the Gates Foundation and even certain drug companies.
Within this paradigm, ‘health is an area in which entrepreneurship can flourish’, according to a write-up on the WEF website. ‘It is the mission of the Forum’s Health team to galvanise business to take action in global health.’
A response to this comes from public health academic A Shukla, who writes: ‘Private involvement carries large overhead costs and simply needs to deliver some form of profit. There is thus simply an insurmountable gap between public interest and private privilege. Only through putting pressure on the state will the excesses of the private sector in health be eventually done away with.’
It is clear that public-private partnerships are a dangerous path for any vulnerable UN agency to go down. A coalition of conflicting interests usually results in one partner swallowing the other or bullying it into submission.
A fundamental issue is at stake here: whether our world health policy is in the hands of health professionals, health ministries and grassroots NGOs, or falls into the clutches of the unelected gnomes of Davos and their business blueprints for ever greater control over the vital sector of public health.                                
Tom Fawthrop is a journalist and filmmaker who attended the first People’s Health Assembly – the founding conference of the People’s Health Movement – in 2000 and also participated in the second People’s Health Assembly in 2005. He is the director of Swimming Against the Tide, a documentary on the Cuban health system. DVDs are available from
  1. Some UN agencies such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP) receive compulsory contributions from member states. But in the case of WHO, its fixed contributions have been whittled down and it is now increasingly dependent on voluntary contributions. See Delhi Statement, ‘Time to Untie the Knots: The WHO Reform and the Need for Democratising Global Health’, May 2011, available

Corporate Philanthropy & the Gates Foundation: Global Vaccine Program Conflicts of Interest

Bill Gates is reported to be one of the richest individuals on Earth, with a current net worth of $87.4 billion.1 The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded in 2000, is the largest private foundation in the world.2 The foundation’s mission is to support and fund international development initiatives that improve social, economic and health conditions on a global level.3 The BMFG has been praised for pumping massive amounts of money into public health policy initiatives and scientific research on issues that forward the personal vision and social reform goals of Bill Gates.2
A recent report released by a U.K. based organization Global Justice Now, closely examines the BMGF operations and reveals that the foundation’s influence on global health initiatives is greater than any other donor country including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland and Italy.2 However, unlike democratic governments who are accountable to their electorates, the BMGF is a private foundation that essentially remains unaccountable to populations impacted by the foundation’s social reform and public health initiatives, with the exception of tax reporting requirements.2
More recently, the BMGF has come under scrutiny regarding the manner in which it operates and the impact of its programs and initiatives. Philanthropy, particularly on a large scale like this, is not as simple as it may appear to be.4 Global Justice Nowexpresses its concern by stating:
Perhaps what is most striking about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is that, despite its aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices. Global Justice Now is concerned that the foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development, which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the foundation, are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage.2

Accountability and Conflicts of Interest

Concerns have been raised regarding the foundation’s lack of accountability and conflicts of interest with multinational corporations. Although the BMGF spends only 5% of its annual global health budget on lobbying and advocacy, this 5%, which translates into over $100 million speaks volumes on the political power held by the foundation.4 The BMGF funds scientific research, including new vaccine development, and also gives significant amounts of money to institutions ranging from universities to non-governmental organizations. It is also the single largest donor to the World Health Organization (WHO).2 4
In 2015, the BMGF contributed 11% of the WHO’s entire budget.2 In 1999, the foundation committed $750 million over a 5-year period as seed money to launch the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI),5 an international organization committed to “improve access to new and underused vaccines to children in low-income countries.”6Since 2000, the foundation has contributed $2.5 billion to GAVI.2 Interestingly, according to the Global Justice Now report “members of the GAVI board always include companies in the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, which involves GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer, among others.”2
These types of public-private partnerships no doubt gives the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation considerable leverage in influencing health policy priorities in the U.S. and other countries, which creates both perceived and real conflicts of interest.4 Gregg Gonsalves, an long time AIDS activist and co-founder of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition voices his concern about the power of the BMGF:
It’s not a democracy. It’s not even a constitutional monarchy. It’s about what Bill and Melinda want. We depend on them learning, and it’s not as if there are many points of influence for this.4
The BMGF is heavily intertwined with corporate America. Most of the senior staff employed at the foundation have previously worked at multinational corporations.2 4
This is particularly common with the BMGF’s health programs whereby former pharmaceutical industry executives lead the work rather than public health professionals.2 To name a few examples, Sue Desmond-Hellman, CEO of the BMGF, previously held a senior position as President of Product Development for 14 years at Genentech, a biotechnology company.2 Genentech and GlaxoSmithKline also employed the current COO of the BMGF, Leigh Morgan.2 There are several more such examples highlighted in the Global Justice Now report.

Microsoft and Tax Avoidance

Bill Gates wealth largely comes from Microsoft, the software company he founded in 1975.2 In 2008, Gates decided to stop working full-time for Microsoft in order to focus more on his foundation. Still serving on Microsoft’s Board of Directors, he spends one-third of his time working for the company and remains the single largest shareholder owning 4.5% of the company.2
Microsoft’s tax record has been the center of controversy for many years. Global Justice Now reports:
A 2012 US Senate found that the company was using offshore subsidiaries to substantially reduce its tax bills, describing Microsoft’s complex web of interrelated foreign entities to facilitate international sales and reduce U.S and foreign tax. The report noted that despite the company undertaking most of its research in the U.S and generating U.S tax credits, profit rights to the intellectual property were largely located in foreign tax havens. This meant that Microsoft was able to shift offshore nearly $21 billion (in a 3-year period), or almost half of its U.S. retail sales net revenue, saving up to $4.5 billion in taxes on goods sold in the United States, or just over $4 million in U.S. taxes each day. The $4.5 billion in taxes lost to the U.S Treasury each year is greater than the BMGF’s annual global spending. Furthermore, Microsoft’s value as a company has undoubtedly been inflated by its tax planning, meaning that more of Gates’ philanthropy has been paid for by the U.S Exchequer, thus U.S taxpayers.”2

The BMGF’s Global Vaccine Programmes

While there is considerable general concern over BMGF’s influence on U.S. public health policy, there is particular concern about the foundation’s global vaccine initiatives, which lack independent review and evaluation.2 The BMGF, via its funding to GAVI, is now one of the world’s largest funders of vaccine programs in low-income nations.2 Its vaccine initiatives have raised some serious ethical issues.2 Global Justice Now explains:
the BMGF also stands accused of assisting pharmaceutical companies to circumvent or short-cut Western regulation by sponsoring cut-rate drug trials in the developing world. It costs billions to develop new drugs, mainly in fees to conduct clinical trials required by the authorities in the US and Europe… Yet several reports in recent years raise serious questions about the impact of some of these BMGF-funded vaccine trials. Some point to significant numbers of illnesses and even deaths among those being administered vaccines.2
Conflicts of interest and lack of accountability issues appear to be inherent in the growth of public-private partnerships. Corporate philanthropic funding of scientific research, new drug and vaccine development and operation of public health programs, including mass vaccination programs, deserves far greater public scrutiny.

The Unholy Alliance, Five Western Donors Shape a Pro-Corporate Agenda for African Agriculture, exposes how a coalition of four donor countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is shaping a pro-business environment in the agricultural sector of developing countries, especially in Africa.

Gates foundation spends bulk of agriculture grants in rich countries

African NGOs received just 4% of Bill Gates’s money for agriculture work, with 75% for US organisations, report says