Monday, January 8, 2007

The Illusion of Humane Philanthropy

We hear about it weekly. Some huge foundation or corporation gives a nonprofit organization big money. The nonprofit bends over backwards to praise the granter of these funds. Many in the public point to the foundation or corporation as a model company of responsible citizenship and the company's image receives a lift.

Yet, there's a major problem with this whole scenario. As pointed out in Sunday's Seattle Times, Gates Foundation Money Works at Cross Purposes, there's an underside to this process of giving.
The Gates Foundation has poured $218 million into polio and measles immunization and research worldwide, including in the Niger Delta. At the same time that it is paying for inoculations to protect health, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Total of France — the companies responsible for most of the flares blanketing the delta with pollution, beyond anything permitted in the United States or Europe.
As the above excerpt clearly shows, most such foundations and multinational corporations are burning the candle at both ends. While it's true that they are supplying money to improve the lot of millions, their amassed fortune is the direct result of creating many of the problems their donations seek to combat. Even worse, they tend to earn far more wealth from these destructive investiments than they end up giving away.

Consequently, while they may look like knights in shining armor, it turns out that their armor is made of tinfoil!

As the article also points out, one of the chief reasons such enterprises give away money in the first place has nothing to do with trying to lift people up or solve societal ills. They do it because, by giving away at least 5% of their profits, they get to avoid paying taxes on their gains -- gains that help fuel environmental degradation, create public health issues and erode labor rights.

In essence, this whole game is nothing more than a sad charade! The minuses far outweigh any pluses.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, the minuses will always be greater than the pluses, so let's just take the pluses where we can find them and don't go peering into the mouth of that gift horse.
    Having said that, I want to point out that the charitable sector of the Gates foundation is seperated from the investment sector by a so-called firewall. Presumably Bill Gates isn't aware of the investments made in his name in some very unsavory areas. Now that it has been made public,it will probably be rectified.
    Public opinion can be a very strong deterrant to such questionable practices and I doubt that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet want to be remembered as the super-rich moguls who backed slavery and other crimes against humanity all in the name of Doing Good Deeds.


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