The Two Faces of Bill Gates: Or How to Kill Those You Love the Most

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Great piece in the LA Times about the Gates Foundation’s two-faced record in the developing world–saving uncounted lives with vaccines and AIDS-fighting campaigns on one hand, endangering those same lives by investing in the companies that help kill or poison them on the other. Part of what’s fascinating is that it took so long for someone to ask the question: Every nonprofit invests, but how many actually bother to agonize over how to make those dollars reflect the same values the foundation espouses? Not the Gates Foundation, apparently: It has a “firewall” between the grantmaking and the investment side that is soon to be reinforced by a move of the assets into a trust with only one goal–maximizing profits, er, foundation resources–and only two trustees, Bill and Melinda Gates. Not that it probably will make that much difference. Already, the Times finds, recipients of the Gates Foundation’s investment largesse include

• Companies ranked among the worst U.S. and Canadian polluters, including ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Tyco International Ltd.

• Many of the world’s other major polluters, including companies that own an oil refinery and one that owns a paper mill, which a study shows sicken children while the foundation tries to save their parents from AIDS.

• Pharmaceutical companies that price drugs beyond the reach of AIDS patients the foundation is trying to treat.

Using the most recent data available, a Times tally showed that hundreds of Gates Foundation investments — totaling at least $8.7 billion, or 41% of its assets, not including U.S. and foreign government securities — have been in companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially concerned philosophy.

This is “the dirty secret” of many large philanthropies, said Paul Hawken, an expert on socially beneficial investing who directs the Natural Capital Institute, an investment research group. “Foundations donate to groups trying to heal the future,” Hawken said in an interview, “but with their investments, they steal from the future.”

Moreover, investing in destructive or unethical companies is not what is most harmful, said Hawken and other experts, including Douglas Bauer, senior vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a nonprofit group that assists foundations on policy and ethical issues. Worse, they said, is investing purely for profit, without attempting to improve a company’s way of operating.

Such blind-eye investing, they noted, rewards bad behavior.

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