Widgets Magazine


Gates Foundation, divest from G4S

The Stanford Class of 2014 Commencement speakers, Bill and Melinda Gates, are currently facing global scrutiny for their foundation’s $172 million investment in G4S, the world’s largest private military and security company. As graduating seniors, we would like to enumerate these concerns and discuss a new campaign, composed of a broad coalition of students that has formed to call upon the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S and other compromising industries and practices, such as privatized prisons, military contracting and labor exploitation.

Because the Gates Foundation has been such a strong force in almost every area of philanthropy, it is very disturbing that it invests in a company like G4S, which is responsible for a litany of human rights abuses affecting many of the same communities that the Foundation targets for assistance. G4S operates private juvenile detention facilities in the United States as well as over 100 vehicles that bring captured undocumented immigrants to detention centers on the U.S./Mexico border. The company fails to properly house asylum seekers in UK detention centers, which resulted in the death of Jimmy Mubenga, who was killed while being deported to Angola, as well as the death of 15-year-old Gareth Myatt, who was killed while being restrained at a youth detention center.

Additionally, G4S operates prisons, detention and interrogation centers in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which hold more than 5,000 political prisoners, 173 children and 180 people in indefinite detainment. In one case, Arafat Jaradat died from torture in a G4S-secured detention center in 2013. G4S also operates the world’s second-largest private prison in South Africa, which is currently under investigation for using forced injections and shock therapy to subdue inmates. The company violates international labor codes by paying substandard wages and using racist language and policies against employees in Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa, where University of Cape Town students are campaigning to remove the company as the university’s security contractor due to its mistreatment of workers.

In response to the Gates Foundation’s investments in G4S and because the Gates’ are this year’s commencement speakers, Stanford students have mobilized to call on the Gates Foundation to divest from G4S and to reevaluate its investments in companies under investigation for human rights abuses, as well as companies that maintain compromising practices such as privatized prisons, military contracting and labor exploitation.

We also are asking the Foundation to publicize its policy of socially responsible investment for the BMGF Asset Trust detailing its policy for ethical investment, how it will guard against supporting unethical practices and how it will respond to unethical companies already within its endowment.Short of divestment, we request that the Gates’ and the Gates Foundation justify why alleviating poverty requires investment in companies that oppress the same communities the foundation’s philanthropy targets.

We appreciate the Gates’ willingness to share their time with the Class of 2014 and the Stanford community. While here, we ask that they engage in dialogue about principles for making the world a better place. Investments in G4S are a crucial contradiction to our individual and collective values as upcoming leaders in the global community. The company’s practices undermine the Gates Foundation’s philanthropic legacy and Stanford’s Founding Grant, which tasks students with “[promoting] the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization.” We should seek to utilize our influence towards this end as Stanford students and as the audience of the Gates commencement address.


Josh Schott ‘14
Kristian Davis Bailey ‘14
Emma Wilde Botta ‘14
Peter Johnston ‘14
Laurel Fish ‘14
Yvette Dickson-Tetteh ‘14
Tim Borgerson ’14
Najla Gomez Rodriguez ’14
on behalf of Gates Foundation, Divest from G4S

  • ’14

    I commend these students for their commitment to “making the world a better place.” I would like to further challenge them to think more broadly about the issues they bring up. It seems to me that their article is not so much a critique of the Gates Foundation, but an attack upon “companies that maintain compromising practices such as privatized prisons, military contracting and labor exploitation.”

    What if the Gates Foundation as well as all other entities did divest from G4S and all other similar companies the authors of this article take issue with? Could there possibly be unintended negative side-effects of this divestment? Would there really be no more labor exploitation on Earth? Would the authors prefer government run prisons such as Guantanamo Bay? Would it be better to have no prisons and allow criminals to run free? Rather than merely criticize privatized prisons and advocate their end, maybe these students could put their minds together to come up with an acceptable alternative. It’s understandable that the authors would take issue with military contractors and the wars they support and profit off of, but what would happen if they disappeared and we no longer could provide our troops with the equipment they need? Should we no longer maintain an army? What would the result of this be?

    I was a little let down by the article as I had hoped to see a more nuanced and complex analysis from a group of graduating seniors. I’d like it if these authors could reevaluate their position and present a more complete view. As it stands now, their article unfortunately comes off as superficial and a little naive. Pretty much everyone agrees these things are bad but these authors merely complain without offering a compelling analysis or solution.