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Gates Foundation launches investment review

Good money for unethical companies?

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Bill and Melinda Gates are reviewing policy at their philanthropic foundation after a newspaper investigation revealed it invested in corporations with questionable ethical records.

The LA Times discovered cash ploughed into oil companies which have been implicated in environmental disasters in the developing world. The paper questioned the apparent contradiction between the Foundation's aims battling poverty and HIV, and its investments in pharmaceutical companies which have been accused of obstructing provision of low cost drugs to poor countries.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Gates Foundation chief Cheryl Scott said there would be a methodical review of the billions of dollars of shares it owns. She said the review would identify if "there are cases simply where the situation is so egregious it will cause us not to invest." The tobacco business is the only industry currently blacklisted by the gates Foundation.

Scott denied the move was a response to the public criticism of the Foundation, adding: "This has been an issue that has been top of line for a long time and will continue to be."

She said the Foundation tries to avoid ranking investments on their ethical record, preferring to focus on giving the money they make away. She said there would be room for much error and confusion in such judgments and "...divesting from companies would not have an effect commensurate with the resources we would divert to this activity."

The Foundation can be assured the results of its latest investment review will be closely scrutinised. At the moment the financial and philanthropic sides of the Foundation have remained separate. Part of the plan is to formalise oversight by the Gates's of the $35bn endowment, which is set to near-double with billions more from Warren Buffet.

Scott has posted a statement on the Foundation website here. ®

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