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What’s Wrong With The World’s Largest Charity?

The world’s largest charity needs greater public scrutiny and to be subject to an independent review, a U.K.-based social justice group warned Friday.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has become so large that many “actors in international development” may no longer be capable of voicing criticism of the charity behemoth, according to a newly released report by Global Justice Now.

According to the report, the Gates Foundation’s sheer size and public influence “has not been matched with the corresponding accountability and scrutiny of the public that we have in aid programs run by governments.”

“At present, the foundation is obliged to only report its high-level financial figures to the U.S. government and its programs are not subject to independent or public evaluation,” the report explained.

“When we examined the foundation’s grants database, we were amazed that they seem to want to fight hunger in the south by giving money to organizations in the north.”

Since being founded in 2000, the Gates Foundation has grown to hold over US$40 billion in assets, and in 2014 spent over US$3 billion on grants—roughly the same figure as the entire budget for the World Health Organization. In 2013, the foundation spent more on aid than entire countries like Canada and Belgium.

This massive expenditure means the Gates Foundation is “now bigger than the aid programs of most sovereign countries, but has few of the accountability mechanisms that you would expect from a state aid agency,” according to Alex Scrivener, policy officer for Global Justice Now.

“Our argument is that Gates’ influence over international development policy has become strong enough to be considered potentially problematic,” he told teleSUR.

The Global Justice Now report argued the Gates Foundation isn’t just about charity, but is driven by a staunchly pro-market ideology. According to the report, an analysis of the Gates Foundation’s projects “shows that the foundation, whose senior staff is overwhelmingly drawn from corporate (U.S.), is promoting multinational corporate interests at the expense of social and economic justice.”

“Its strategy is deepening—and is intended to deepen—the role of multinational companies in global health and agriculture especially, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the global south,” the report explained.

Combined with its massive size, the foundation’s fiercely pro-market ideology means alternative, non-corporate solutions to development issues and poverty are being sidelined across the world, according to the report’s conclusions.

According to Global Justice Now, the Gates Foundation’s “ongoing work significantly depends on the ongoing profitability of corporate (U.S.), something which is not easy to square with genuinely realizing social and economic justice in the global south.”

The report also alleged the Gates Foundation is “pushing for privatization of health and education services” in developing nations—a move that could benefit the private sector, but hurt low-income consumers.

“There is extensive evidence that the promotion of markets in health care leads to an increase in health inequities and inefficiencies. However, despite such evidence, the privatization of the health sector is being vigorously promoted by certain influential donors and corporations,” the report stated.

Global Justice Now isn’t the first to point out the Gates Foundation’s corporate focus. In 2009, the medical journal Lancet found less than 2 percent of the foundation’s grants went to public sector organizations between 1998 and 2007. The same article noted the overwhelming majority of grantees were organizations based in developed nations, with just 37 out of nearly 700 NGO grantees based out of developing or middle income nations.

In 2014, a separate report by agricultural research group Grain concluded the majority of Gates Foundation donations were spent in rich nations like the United States. According to Grain, most of this money was handed to agricultural researchers and promoters of high-tech farming, with just 10 percent of donations heading directly to the African continent.

At the time, Grain co-founder Henk Hobbelink told the U.K.’s The Guardian, “When we examined the foundation’s grants database, we were amazed that they seem to want to fight hunger in the south by giving money to organizations in the north.”

“The overwhelming majority of its funding goes to hi-tech scientific outfits, not to supporting the solutions that the farmers themselves are developing on the ground,” Hobbelink said.

At the time, the Gates Foundation dismissed Grain’s report as “deliberately misleading.”

Speaking to teleSUR, Global Justice Now’s Scrivener said he didn’t doubt the Gates’ motives, but said their foundation could be stunting the creation of new ways to address poverty and development.

“I have no doubt that Bill and Melinda Gates genuinely believe that their approach will seriously combat world poverty. And some of their work probably is good … The problem is that their very particular ideological position is squeezing out what, in our opinion, would be more effective alternatives,” he said.

However, he emphasized ideology itself isn’t the problem.

“Ideology and charitable aims are not necessarily contradictory. It is perfectly possible to be either anything from a market fundamentalist to a communist and genuinely believe you are making the world a better place,” he explained.

Scrivener added, “The problem lies when a particular ideological viewpoint becomes so powerful that it actually undermines the supposed mission of ending poverty and cuts out alternative viewpoints.”

“In fact, we would say that charity is part of what we need to get away from when talking about global poverty. What we need is justice, not charity,” he said.

First published by teleSUR English.

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