Thank Goodness for Journalists (and I Don’t Know WHAT to Say to the Gateses)

January 24, 2007 at 2:02 pm (Michael's Posts)

Well, maybe sometimes they open our eyes to things we’d rather not have them open to.

This set of articles appeared starting a couple weeks ago in the LA Times. They’re about the contradiction between some of the investment holdings of the Gates Foundation and their stated commitment to furthering global health. Truly shocking stuff.

To be frank, after reading the first article in the series, published January 7th, 2007 (they appear on the linked page from most recently published to first published), I was sickened and disillusioned. How could people who purport to do so much good have their hands so deep in what is black-and-white bad?

Money. It seems to be about the money. But with Gates and Buffet’s fortunes combined, how could they possibly need more money? I wanted lunch 20 minutes ago but I think I lost my appetite.

Especially after reading the most recent article (1-14-07) . The Foundation’s CEO, Patty Stonesifer, argues that it would be naive to think that one investor’s divestment from companies who do great health and social harm would impact the practices of the company.

True, Ms Stonesifer. Someone else would just buy the stock. But the Gates Foundation is not just any old investor. They’re the single most high-profile charity IN THE WORLD. A public demand from the Gates Foundation to change business practices or risk divestment could do something, could it not? Or am I being naive? And is the influence that your Foundation has really not all that powerful? I’d like to think otherwise. Please do the right thing. You have the unique opportunity to fight for justice in many arenas. Why allow this contradiction to stand? Especially in the face of such hard-hitting evidence.

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4 Comments

  1. Alexandra Coria said,

    Not a lot of time to respond to this (though in my office this has been quite the debate), but there are a few other articles that have been published about this as well. The first is a Guardian piece basically calling the Gateses out, the second is a profile of Patty Stonesifer, the third the original Andrew Jack commentary in the FT on the LA times stories, and the fourth a piece from just today, actually, from the Seattle Times, defending the Gateses. Very interesting stuff, and I really hope this doesn’t just go away easily…this is a worthy debate. So, tell a friend, write an LTE, stage a protest, whatever. But first read these articles, all of them very interesting.

    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sarah_boseley/2007/01/post_952.html

    http://www.economist.com/people/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8550607

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/c546eaf6-a26a-11db-a187-0000779e2340.html

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2003538019_rams24.html

  2. Jessica Pickett said,

    Alex, is there any chance that we can convince you to stay in global health policy instead of going back to med school?!?

  3. misarita said,

    On a related note, I’ve been thinking a lot about socially responsible consumerism. Anyone have any resources on what measures are the best to look at to evaluate companies on their social responsibility? The articles mention a few measures abstractly (environmental measures, lack of corruption, etc.), but I’m curious about those measures. Which are the most important? I think that many people look at issues like the Gateses donations and think fatalistically that all corporations have some bad effects, so there isn’t much that can be done to combat it. So, what sort of concrete and practical recommendations can we give to consumers/people making donations to be sure that they are going to the right places?

  4. Alexandra Coria said,

    Sarah – Article in BusinessWeek this week that might help answer some of your questions: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_05/b4019001.htm

    Haven’t actually had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but saw it hanging around the office and thought I’d post it.

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