Semi-Hatchet Job on Gates Foundation in LA Times

So, the LA Times has a semi-hatchet job on the Gates Foundation today, basically lambasting the Foundation for investing in companies that are socially irresponsible. In other words, the Gates Foundation apparently does not have a social screen on its investments to ensure they are consistent with the principles and moral aims the Gates Foundation is pursuing. The journalists spice up the piece with human interest stories of people suffering in developing countries from pollution or high-cost anti-AIDS drugs in places where the Gates Foundation grantees work and where companies the Gates Foundation has invested in are doing bad things.

I have long supported socially responsible investments and have some of my own, and I understand how activists and journalists work to shame companies and countries into better practices. But, on the other hand, something in the piece strikes me as an effort by the journalists to go after the Gates Foundation because they can and because the Foundation has gotten far too much good press. I guess I’m bothered by the effort to cherry-pick a handful of examples just to make the Gates Foundation look bad.

One of the connections the article makes is to the Gates Foundation’s investments in BP which, in turn, invests in a South African oil refinery which has pretty high emissions of pollutants. Another more relevant example is the Foundation’s investments in Abbot Laboratories which is implicated in the sale of Kaletra, a second-line AIDS medication, that is not available as a generic and is as yet too expensive for many poor Africans like the Nigerian man the article profiles.The first issue just seems unfair, unless you think the Gates Foundation should shun all investments in the petroleum sector. I could understand this if the Gates Foundation were an alternative energy or environmental foundation, but this is not part of its core purpose. Indicting the Gates Foundation for investing in BP which has invested in a South African firm is pretty indirect.

The Abbott Lab’s investment might be more suspect, but the rest of the piece makes me a little suspicious. It just has the edge of an accusatory anti-business approach that makes for a good movie like the Constant Gardener but inevitably obscures some of the nuance. Maybe Abbott Lab’s are evil profit-seeking capitalists, but that trope seems a little old and possibly unhelpful. There are bad companies out there, but the brush in this piece strikes me as far too broad.

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2 Responses to “Semi-Hatchet Job on Gates Foundation in LA Times”

  1. A similar conclusion was reached on the THDblog . The LA Times could have picked a more appropriate divestment target. Public sector pension funds are classic bellweathers in ethical investment debates. The University of California system for instance led the apartheid divestment movement in the 1980s and the more recent Sudan divestment efforts.

  2. […] Well, sensitive to bad press from the LA Times, the Gates Foundation announced a turnaround on its investment policies and will seek to incorporate some socially responsible screening of their investment portfolios. This is being hailed a bellwhether for the philanthropic world, though something about the original piece (actually a two-parter) struck me as something of a hatchet job and selectively choosing some anecdotes to make the Foundation look bad. (hat tip: the folks at THD). […]