Investigative reporter Charles Piller comments in The Nation on how the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation investment portfolio subverts its international good works

Oakland, California (EastBayDaily) — Investigative Reporter Charles Piller, in an exclusive exposé for The Nation Magazine , comments this week on ways that The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continues to report more than $2.5 billion of investments in arms dealers, alcohol manufacturers, and oil and mining companies — doing great harm in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, precisely where the foundation is trying to help.


Reports Piller: “The Gates Foundation boasts about its grants to help poor farmers adapt to droughts and floods caused by global warming. Yet according to the foundation’s most recent tax filing and recent SEC filings, it holds more than $1.2 billion in BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil, and other energy firms whose environmental despoliation promotes the climate change that is destroying those farmers’ livelihoods.”

Piller is revisiting an investigation he and colleagues did in 2007 for the Los Angeles Times. Piller and his team were was nominated by the Times for the Pulitzer Prize, which included extensive contributions by Piller, reporting from Africa.

That report found that the foundation had vast holdings in big-pharma firms that priced AIDS drugs out of reach for desperate victims the foundation wanted to save. It benefitted greatly from predatory lenders whose practices sparked the Great Recession and chocolate makers said by the U.S. government to have supported child slavery.


Says Piller: “After our investigations were published, the foundation briefly considered changing its policy of blind-eye investing, but ultimately pulled funds only from firms that provided the financial basis for genocide in Darfur. Even in that case, when the glare of adverse publicity faded, the foundation hopped back into such companies, including the Chinese weapons and construction giant NORINCO International.”

The article, available now on The Nation website, describes how the Foundation’s “blind-eye” investment philosophy undermines its own high-minded goals and contradicts even the modest investment screens to reduce social harm favored by Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the Foundation’s new chief executive, for her personal holdings.

The Gates Foundation, according to Piller, has led efforts across Africa to improve life expectancy through vaccinations and AIDS care, but it also has placed big investment bets on mining firms whose operations have proved environmentally disastrous for foundation beneficiaries in the developing world. This includes stakes in Brazil’s notorious Vale S.A. and Rio Tinto – frequently cited for egregious pollution at sites around the world.


Says Piller: “Both companies, among others in the Gates Foundation portfolio, are jumping into the burgeoning market for chasing down sources of rare earth elements that are essential to electronics, hybrid cars and windmills, a rush for wealth notorious for laying to waste wide areas around mines and processing plants.”

The Foundation responded to earlier challenges to its investment portfolio by saying it must guard against lower returns that might come from a portfolio strategy that aggressively seeks to reduce social harm.

Writes Piller: “Even if social investing shaved a thin slice from the bottom line, harm reduction would better support Gates’ oft-stated goal, that ‘every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life.’ To use complexity as an excuse for doing nothing – for rejecting the opportunity to lead – seems a short-sighted approach.”

Adds Piller: “It doesn’t sound like Bill Gates to me.”



Charles Piller is a screenwriter and film producer, and continues to be an active and award-winning reporter for the Sacramento Bee.

His award winning, collaborative investigation of the Gates Foundation in Africa, written while he was a reporter for the L.A. Times, was nominated by the Times for the Pulitzer Prize. His award-winning, ongoing investigation of corruption in the construction of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by his editors at the Bee.

Piller’s Bay Bridge reporting forced sweeping changes in how the state tests bridge foundations, sparked numerous hearing in the California Legislature, and prompted independent technical reviews of the new span that found maintenance and safety problems.

His work led to an ongoing investigation by the California Highway Patrol of possible contracting malfeasance, and calls by a leading state senator for a criminal investigation of the project.

Piller’s Bay Bridge reporting also inspired a new state law that dramatically increases public disclosure by expert review panels for megaprojects, and three other bills meant to improve the handling of massive public projects now under consideration by the Legislature or Governor.

Charles has also just completed his first dramatic screenplay, Rare Earth, which focuses on the impact of Western investments on worker health and abuse in Africa. His new production company, Charles Piller Films, has four additional properties currently under development:

> STEEL CITY – a contemporary international crime thriller that jumps between Tokyo, Shanghai and San Francisco.

> DEEP TIME – a futuristic science fiction romance that connects a digitally preserved ‘female guardian’ to a mining engineer living 10,000 years in the future – both locked in a race to control an environmental disaster threatened by long-buried nuclear wastes.

> BIOPOLIS – a scientific who-done-it horror film – focused on a Vietnamese disease investigator who discovers and battles a deadly new flu strain that has jumped from birds to people. With a reporter, she traces the origins of the outbreak to an biotech firm with plans to make billions of dollars on the global threat.

>THE CITADEL – a contemporary thriller set in a super-max prison, in which a reporter and pharmacy technician risk their lives to expose and stop a secret experimental drug trial. Designed to turn hardened thugs into model citizens, the experiment instead transforms its subjects into coolly brilliant criminal masterminds committed to plans of unspeakable evil.

Visit his new company at on the Web.


Surry Bunnell