When the 3 Legs Intertwine

“DR. WARREN: These problems are so big, Tim, that everybody’s failed at them. The United Nations has failed, the United States has failed. And the reason why is because we have not worked together on these issues. Last year at Davos I kept hearing people talk about public and private partnerships. And what they meant was, we need government and businesses to work together on these big global problems. These are problems that affect billions of people, not millions. And when they said that, I said, ‘Well, you’re right, but you’re not quite there yet. You’re missing the third leg of the stool.’ A one-legged stool will fall over, a two-legged stool will fall over, and business and government alone cannot solve these problems. They haven’t, or they would’ve. The third leg of the stool is the churches. There’s a, there’s a public sector role, there’s a private sector role and there’s a faith sector role.

“Each of the three legs have something to bring to the table that the other doesn’t have.”
(Rick Warren’s interview with Tim Russert, Meet the Press, 12/24/06) [emphasis added]

Many times on this blog we have detailed the history and concept of business guru Peter Drucker’s 3-legged stool ideology. In a nutshell, Drucker envisioned that a “healthy” Society would best function if it were built upon the three legs of State, Church (private sector) and Corporate (business). This 3-legged concept of Society is idealistic and utopian.

There is trouble in paradise when one leg begins to exercise dominion over the other legs through money and power. A recent news account in the Los Angeles Times examines some ethical issues with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The article, entitled “Dark cloud over good works of Gates Foundation,” by Charles Piller, Edmund Sanders and Robyn Dixon, January 7, 2007 details a few of the problems when there are linkages between the Private Sector Leg and the Corporate Sector Leg. The main story takes place in Nigeria in Africa:

“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 the foundation is funding inoculations to protect health, The Times found, it has invested $423 million in Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. 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.

“Indeed, local leaders blame oil development for fostering some of the very afflictions that the foundation combats. . . .

“AT the end of 2005, the Gates Foundation endowment stood at $35 billion, making it the largest in the world. Then in June 2006, Warren E. Buffett, the world’s second-richest man after Bill Gates, pledged to add about $31 billion in installments from his personal fortune. Not counting tens of billions of dollars more that Gates himself has promised, the total is higher than the gross domestic products of 70% of the world’s nations. . . .

” . . . The Times found that the Gates Foundation has holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of environmental lapses, employment discrimination, disregard for worker rights, or unethical practices. . . .

” . . . The Times found the Gates Foundation endowment had major holdings in:

• Companies ranked among the worst U.S. and Canadian polluters, including ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Tyco International Ltd.

• Many of the world’s other major polluters, including companies that own an oil refinery and one that owns a paper mill, which a study shows sicken children while the foundation tries to save their parents from AIDS.

Pharmaceutical companies that price drugs beyond the reach of AIDS patients the foundation is trying to treat.

“This is ‘the dirty secret’ of many large philanthropies, said Paul Hawken, an expert on socially beneficial investing who directs the Natural Capital Institute, an investment research group. ‘Foundations donate to groups trying to heal the future,’ Hawken said in an interview, ‘but with their investments, they steal from the future.'”

There is an extended discussion of the Gates’ method of operating the two legs of the stool in this article. It then notes the consequences of this type of philanthropy to AIDS patients:

“AT a clinic in Isipingo, a suburb of the South African port city of Durban where the HIV infection rate is as high as 40%, Thembeka Dube, 20, was getting a checkup.

“Dube had volunteered for tests of a vaginal gel that researchers hope will be shown to protect against HIV. The tests are part of a study conducted by the New York-based Population Council, and funded by a $20-million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Dube’s boyfriend won’t use condoms. She hoped the tests would show she could use the microbicidal gel, called Carraguard, and stop worrying about AIDS.

“Research into prophylactics such as Carraguard can fight AIDS by empowering women, Bill Gates told the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August. . . .

“. . .At the same time the Gates Foundation was trying to help Dube, it owned a stake in companies that appeared to be hurting [others].”

The LA Times article doesn’t look deeper into the social and religious ethical issues of experimental pharmaceuticals on AIDS patients in African nations (which by and large have no protections for patients). It doesn’t delve into the spermicidal ingredients that may or may not be added to this anti-AIDS gel — with or without the patients’ knowledge and/or consent. It doesn’t ask the hard questions about databanking personally identifiable patient genetic information. The list of ethical concerns could go on and on.

But the article does detail some ethical issues surrounding Bill Gates’ cozy financial relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. Particularly, in a brief vignette about an expensive antiretroviral drugs and an experimental second-line AIDS drug called Kaletra:

“Gel capsules of Kaletra melt in Nigeria’s sweltering climate, where temperatures often top 100 degrees. Felix kept his Kaletra in a small chest filled with ice.

“Each day, he had to go get more ice. And each day, he had to take Kaletra precisely at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. These things made it difficult for him to work, even at odd jobs.

“A new version of Kaletra does not require refrigeration. But his physician, Dr. T.M. Balogun, who helps run the AIDS program at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, told him not to get his hopes up.

“The hospital is helped by the Nigerian government, which gets money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The fund has been awarded $651 million by the Gates Foundation. Yet the hospital does not offer the new Kaletra. It is too expensive.

“In August, private pharmacists said they could sell it for $246 a month. But that was far out of Felix’s reach.

Kaletra is made by Abbott Laboratories. As of this September, the Gates Foundation held $169 million in Abbott stock. In 2005, the foundation held nearly $1.5 billion worth of stock in drug companies whose practices have been widely criticized as restricting the flow of key medicines to poor people in developing nations.

“On average, shares in those companies have increased in value about 54% since 2002. Investments in Abbott and other drug makers probably have gained the foundation hundreds of millions of dollars.” [all emphases above are added]

The rest of the article is worth a read as it pertains to the pharmaceutical industry’s profit motive in designing new drugs for the continent of Africa, particularly its AIDS victims. The patients’ access to these high-priced drugs is examined briefly.

Rick Warren has been associated with the Gates Foundation at various international AIDS conferences, the Aspen Ideas Festival, the recent Saddleback AIDS conference, and The White House Summit on Malaria which included representatives of government, corporations (notably oil companies cited above), NGOs, and foundations. He attended a Time Magazine-sponsored Global Health Summit in October 2005, which was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This, of course, raises other disturbing ethical issues about the interconnections between media and the other three legs of the stool. The article states: “Additional support has been provided by The Coca-Cola Company, the United Nations Foundation, ExxonMobil, BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) and the American Red Cross.”

What happens when the Church “leg” of this “stool” cozies up to the other two legs of the stool? When, for example, the Church agrees to become the world’s distribution network for the other 2 legs of the stool? And when the church agrees beforehand to not ask any questions about the ethics (or lack thereof) because in the supposed urgency of the hour it must do “whatever it takes”? What happens to the Church when monies pass freely back and forth between all the legs and the Church becomes one of the “partners” in these affairs? Will the salty questions be asked about biblical ethics?

The Truth:

“By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned:” (Ezekiel 28:16a)