The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid a public relations firm to secretly infiltrate the only UN process to regulate gene drive technologies – the uncontrolled release of genetically engineered living things. This is suggested by over 1,000 emails that were disclosed last Monday.

20th November 2017 from Barbara Unmüßig

A few weeks before the manipulation financed by the Gates Foundation became known, Barbara Unmüßig, director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, dealt with the growing influence of private “philanthropic” foundations in a background article:

Bill Gates is the richest person in the world. His net worth is estimated at $ 88.5 billion. And he is arguably the most generous too. He and his wife have already donated billions of their wealth to a so-called good cause through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Together with Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the United States, they launched the Giving Pledge in 2010: a call to other billionaires around the world to do the same and donate at least half of their wealth. 168 billionaires have joined so far. Buffett has promised to dedicate 99 percent of his fortune to philanthropy – and most of all to the Gates Foundation.

That sounds wonderful and promising: The rich take responsibility, give back and do good. And that while multilateral organizations are chronically underfunded. They are also successful businessmen and women with valuable experience in managing large companies and projects.

The narrative of the benevolent philanthropists

Makers, whose expertise can be put to good use where institutions, states and governments fail. This narrative of the benevolent philanthropists who fight the misery of the world is quite catchy. The question is whether we should accept it that way.

The BMGF is the largest philanthropic foundation in the world with foundation assets of around 40 billion dollars. Since its inception, it has given a total of $ 42 billion in grants, according to its own information. It is primarily involved in international development aid, particularly in the areas of health and agriculture.

It provides more financial development aid in health care than any state and is the fifth largest supporter of agricultural initiatives in less developed countries.

This immense financial contribution is accompanied by considerable political influence: Bill and Melinda Gates are represented on numerous international commissions and bodies. For example, in 2013 you were the only NGO spokesman in the UN on the Post-MDG (Millennium Development Goals) agenda.

In 2014, Melinda Gates was the keynote speaker at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, and Bill Gates was appointed to the MDG Advocacy Group in 2010 by then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to mobilize support for the MDG agenda.

In short, they are regular advisers on health, reproductive rights and climate policy, although they are not experts here, and they work on an equal footing with various UN organizations. In addition, the leaders of their foundation regularly switch back and forth between the foundation, multilateral institutions and corporations.

Gates Foundation Campus, Global Libraries, Peer Learning Meeting 2011, Seattle, Washington

Barbara Unmüßig on the Gene Drives Files

“It is an international scandal of the first order when a private, supposedly philanthropic foundation tries to torpedo a UN process. The disclosed emails of the Gene Drive Files show how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) apparently uses more than questionable methods to enforce particular entrepreneurial interests and also its own economic interests. “

“Neither the individual governments nor the international community of states or international civil society should accept this – the first consequence is: Despite its gigantic budget, the BMGF can no longer be the point of contact for the design of international strategies in whatever area. At the same time, their approach shows how necessary a strong international, democratically legitimized regulation of the numerous questions within the framework of the UN Bio-Diversity Convention is. “

“It is an international scandal of the first order when a private, supposedly philanthropic foundation tries to torpedo a UN process. The disclosed emails of the Gene Drive Files show how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) apparently uses more than questionable methods to enforce particular entrepreneurial interests and also its own economic interests. “

“Neither the individual governments nor the international community of states or international civil society should accept this – the first consequence is: Despite its gigantic budget, the BMGF can no longer be the point of contact for the design of international strategies in whatever area. At the same time, their approach shows how necessary a strong international, democratically legitimized regulation of the numerous questions within the framework of the UN Bio-Diversity Convention is. “

Philanthropic foundations as partners in development aid

The UN Development Program (UNDP) has summed up that philanthropic foundations no longer see themselves only as donors, but as full partners in development aid. They expect to be involved in problem analysis and discussions on policy agendas.

The influence that the BMGF and thus Bill and Melinda Gates personally have on the global agenda of disease control and health care as well as the design and development of global agriculture and thus nutrition is enormous. In the health sector, the World Health Organization (WHO) is the major global player.

Her mission is to achieve the best possible level of health for all people by fighting disease and promoting general health around the world. It should actually be financed from voluntary contributions from its member states. However, the organization is in a chronic financial crisis – the states regularly do not pay their contributions in full.

The WHO is therefore dependent on other sources and draws around half of its budget from foundations, NGOs and the private sector. 14 percent of their total budget in 2016/17 came from the BMGF. The WHO, and with it international health governance, is therefore dependent on these private actors and their favor.

This is problematic because there is no obligation for Gates and Co. to spend their money on this purpose in the next year. They could stop their donations overnight, the WHO and global health care would be down, we would be helpless.

Another problem with philanthropic grants is that they are typically earmarked. This also applies to 80 percent of the WHO budget. This means that the global health agenda is no longer determined by the WHO General Assembly, but by donors. You have the power to determine specific projects and priorities for the organization. Issues that do not meet their priorities and goals are simply not funded.

Market and technology

The BMGF is increasingly shaping international health care: It relies on market-based and, above all, technical solutions for complex problems. For example, it finances large vaccination campaigns and distributes medicines and mosquito nets against malaria. This helps. However, this does not address the structural causes of the constant malaise in government health budgets.

The focus is on campaigns that can be implemented like business projects – with a lot of money, relationships in the economy and quick, measurable results. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are particularly popular, partly on the grounds that they make medical treatment cheaper. But that is demonstrably not true. According to Doctors Without Borders, the ÖPP GAVI has made individual vaccinations cheaper for individual countries to immunize children. However, comprehensive vaccination protection for children was 68 times more expensive in 2014 than in 2011.

In addition, with this approach, the fight against the diseases itself falls short. A vaccination does not make a person healthy. Hunger, thirst, poverty and social inequality also contribute to people getting sick.

It is particularly problematic that private donors unilaterally determine the research agenda. The focus is on developing new and better vaccines against communicable diseases such as malaria and HIV / AIDS. On the other hand, research on non-communicable chronic diseases or preventive measures against pneumonia, diarrhea and malnutrition in mothers and their children remains underrepresented – and these are the causes of 75 percent of all infant deaths.

Corporations benefit from the earmarked donations from the Gates Foundation

The research and funding practice of the BMGF also favors pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, Roche, Sanofi, Gilead and Pfizer, in which the foundation and its namesake have invested their money. There is a conflict of interest in this. The corporations benefit from the Gates Foundation’s focus on pharmaceutical strategies and the Foundation from the prosperous corporations. This is how one hand washes the other – a clever business model that can be refined with the claim to philanthropic engagement.

The Gates Foundation is rightly criticized for holding large shares in corporations that are accused of promoting cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and other causes of illness with their products. According to its 2015 tax return, the Gates Foundation owns $ 538 million in Coca-Cola stock. There are also holdings in the multinational food groups PepsiCo, Unilever, Kraft-Heinz, Mondelez and Tyson Foods, as well as the alcohol groups Anheuser-Busch and Pernod.

Global health policy and prevention need more comprehensive and cross-cutting approaches. In a 2008 report, the WHO found that social and economic factors such as income and its distribution, living and working conditions, education and the environment have a greater impact on people’s health than medical care alone. It seems all the more unreasonable that the organization nevertheless pursues an agenda that relies disproportionately on technical medical help instead of the formation of socio-economic capacities and changes.

Instead of investing money in the development of state health and basic services, the money – also through the PPP model – flows primarily into the private sector and the profit balances of American and European pharmaceutical companies. Individual wealthy business people determine what is most urgently needed, while the priorities on the ground may be very different.

The Gates and Rockefeller Foundation are driving a “green revolution” in Africa

The situation is similar in the global agricultural sector: the BMGF understands hunger and malnutrition primarily as problems of a lack of technology and a lack of expertise in agriculture. Another philanthropist laid the foundation for this approach to hunger fight back in the 1960s: John D. Rockefeller.

Since 2006, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundation have been promoting a “green revolution” in Africa with a total of $ 3 billion to date, which aims to increase agricultural productivity through the use of hybrid seeds, biotechnology, synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering. Around 96 percent of the money goes to American or European NGOs that implement the measures.

Critics therefore rightly accuse the philanthropist that this approach opens up African markets in particular to American and European corporations and NGOs – from which the donor institutions often benefit themselves. Local, socially and ecologically more sustainable alternatives such as agroecology remain underrepresented and are being displaced.

In addition, the paternalistic top-down access deprives the local population of their freedom of design. The risks and side effects of technological development, from genetically modified seeds to the negative effects of industrial agriculture and its methods, are rarely discussed in society.

Bill Gates has a decisive influence on international development policy and steers it in the right direction. His influence is not democratically legitimized. Civil society actors and NGOs often criticize this. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to forget that NGOs, multilateral organizations and state action are very rarely discussed and legitimized on a global scale.

One-sided “plaster” solutions

The problem that complex, structural problems and crises are fought one-sidedly with technical “patchwork” solutions, that socially and ecologically just alternatives are neglected and that acute medical and technological support for people is not accompanied by a far-reaching transformation was not raised by philanthropists like Create Bill Gates.

Rather, we are dealing with a general, global political problem. Governments duck their responsibility and their duty to provide public services and the common good. Appropriate taxation of the elites and middle classes in particular would be the order of the day in order to establish health, education or research budgets for the benefit of the poorer population and public goods.

The fact that the WHO only spends 80 percent of its funds purposefully and thereby at most can promote a selective and inadequate health policy cannot be blamed on the philanthropists. The rulers of the world are responsible for the well-being of their citizens and for ending humanitarian crises.

They need to equip multilateral organizations to do their job properly. This includes not only financial and human resources, but also, for example, the involvement of civil society, the local population and specialist expertise.

Create justice

The WHO concluded its report from 2008 with the conclusion: “Social justice is a question of life and death”. It largely determines whether people starve, live in poverty, get sick from infectious diseases and die as a result. Philanthropists like Bill Gates and their commitment to a “good cause” are not the cause of misguided development policies. But they are the other side of the coin of social injustice.

In a world where a few have more than the poorer half of the world’s population, the main problem is not what they do with their wealth. Crucially, the accumulation of this vast wealth creates poverty, social inequality and environmental degradation. We have to address this fundamental problem.

The fight against hunger, poverty and disease in the world is not decided by the willingness to donate and the agenda setting of well-meaning philanthropists. We can only solve the problem of justice if we create a socially and ecologically fairer world for all.

The article first appeared in D + C – Development and Cooperation.

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