The Gates Foundation Is Filling Its Coffers With Profits From Private Prisons

Illustration for article titled The Gates Foundation Is Filling Its Coffers With Profits From Private Prisons
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For soulless ghouls who view the bottom line as superior to basic human rights, for-profit prisons are an apt investment, one that the investment arm of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation just increased its stake in.

As first reported by Bloomberg, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust—a separate organization from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that manages the charity’s endowment assets— just added about 200,000 shares to Serco Group Plc, which operates private prisons and detention centers across the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. This reportedly brought the shares to 3.74 million, which amounts to about $6.6 million.

In a statement emailed to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation emphasized that the trust operates independently from the foundation itself and that the foundation had no role in the Serco investment.


“The endowment that funds the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is independently managed by a separate entity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust,” the spokesperson said.Foundation staff have no influence on Trust investment decisions, and no visibility into the trust’s investment strategies or holdings, other than what is publicly available via required public disclosures, such as the annual tax return (Form 990).”

A spokesperson for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust confirmed the Serco investment to Gizmodo and further clarified that “a review showed the Serco shares were added to the fund’s portfolio without prior approval by an outside asset manager, who was given discretion over individual investments.” The spokesperson added that “the Trust evaluates its holdings regularly, both for performance and fit.”

This isn’t the first time the foundation’s trust has profited from private prisons: a Mother Jones report detailing the charity’s 2012 tax returns found that the charity’s investment arm invested $2.2 million in private prison company The GEO Group, Inc., $2.4 million in a UK-based private security company that operates juvenile detention centers in the US, and $2.5 million in a military contractor.

At the time, a spokesperson for the foundation told the Seattle Globalist the $2.2 million private prison investment was a drop in the bucket compared to the $25 billion the charity had spent helping others in its last 15 years. “We understand the passion of people standing up for injustice,” the spokesperson reportedly said in response to calls for the foundation to pull its investment from the GEO Group. “That is what motivates us all at the foundation every day.”


“We recognize the good that you do in the world, just as we recognize that earning a return on your investment is essential to your theory of change,” more than two dozen human rights groups wrote in a letter to Bill Gates after the news broke in 2014 that his foundation was funding the GEO Group. “But none of your good deeds makes financially enabling the promotion of policies that terrorize children and separate families any less harmful to America’s immigrant communities.”

Serco was fined £19.2m this year for fraud and false accounting attributed to its electronic tagging system for criminals. There have also reportedly been at least 34 reports of sexual assault at Serco immigration detention facilities from 2009 through 2013. And in 2015, documents obtained by the Guardian indicated that the company was lobbying US lawmakers and officials to establish contracts to detain migrant families in the US.


While the Gates Foundation’s assertion that several million is a blip compared to all of the money the charity has funneled into less morally bankrupt causes is factually correct, it’s an egregiously weak argument for having any stake in an institution most credible for locking people up and abusing them.

Update 2:20pm ET, July 24: Added statements from both the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, both of which clarified the operation separation between the two organizations.


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The argument that the Gates Foundation (or anybody else) is somehow supporting private prisons by buying shares in them is quite flawed. Stock investments, in general, are highly amoral-neither good nor bad. If these human rights groups want to make actual good use of their time, they ought to be actively lobbying the governments that patronize their services. Those are  where the real moral choices are being made.