January 26, 2017 (Geneva):  

A joint statement (signed by 36 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was issued to members of the World Health Organization’s Executive Board (EB) at its semi-annual meeting this week in Geneva. EB members will decide on Tuesday 31st January whether to grant the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Official Relations status with WHO.

They will be using – for the first time – the new rules of the Framework for Engagement with non-State actors (FENSA). Member States, aware of many concerns,  adopted  FENSA in May 2016.  but did so on the understanding that there would be due diligence and full transparency and that WHO would “exercise particular caution…when engaging with private sector entities …whose policies or activities are negatively affecting human health..”

Speaking for the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), the global network that has been working with WHO for decades to halt the harmful marketing of baby foods and on conflicts of interest issues,  Patti Rundall says:
“That the BMGF has financially contributed to WHO and many health initiatives is a matter of public record. That it might have an influence on WHO’s policy setting– for good or for bad – is also no secret. Less well known are its substantial investments in food and beverage industries * – investments that are merely noted in WHO’s report as: “engagements with select members of the pharmaceutical… food and beverage…health care… industries in pursuit of our public health goals.”  
This was a test of FENSA’s thoroughness and commitment to  transparency – a test that the NGOs believe FENSA has failed. FENSA could have provided clarity on the relationship between WHO and the Foundation.  This opportunity has been lost, and public trust damaged.”
The NGOs ask for a delay in the decision, while calling for adequate untied funding to enable WHO to carry out its essential work.

Page down for media coverage and response from the Gates Foundation.  NGO  statements on this topic (including IBFAN’s) are on the WHO website HERE  and on my policy blog HERE

The joint statement reads as follows:

January 2017
Open Letter to the
Executive Board of the

World Health Organization 
Dear Members of the Executive Board,
Re:      Conflict of interest safeguards far too weak to protect WHO from influence of regulated industries (the case of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
With all the World Health Organization’s posturing about conflict of interest safeguards and due diligence in its new approach to collaborating with non-state actors in its recently revised constitutional “Basic Documents,” the WHO ended speculation about its ambiguous plan  when it proposed to admit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation into “Official Relations” with the WHO and as a non-voting member of its governing body, the World Health Assembly. 
According to the United States Government’s Securities and Exchange Commission, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust endowment—the source of revenue for the Foundation—is heavily invested in many of the food, alcohol, and physical inactivity-related consumer products that cause or treat the current crisis of preventable heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.  Gates Foundation Trust direct investments include:

  • Coca-Cola regional company that operates in the Americas south of the U.S. ($466 million),
  • Walmart ($837 million), the largest food retailer in the U.S. and a leading retailer of pharmaceutical drugs and alcoholic beverages,
  • Walgreen-Boots Alliance ($280 million), a large multinational pharmaceutical drug retailer, and
  • two of the world’s largest TV companies (screen-time): Group Televisa ($433 million) and Liberty Global PLC ($221 million). 

In addition, approximately one-quarter of the Gates Foundation Trust assets are invested in Berkshire Hathaway Inc., a holding company that owns a US$17 billion share in the U.S.-based Coca-Cola company and US$29 billion interest in Kraft Heinz Inc., another of the world’s ten largest food companies.  These investments make the Gates Foundation a beneficiary of sales of several categories of products that are the subject of WHO standards and advice to governments related to nutrition and physical activity. 

It is concerning that these conflicts of interest are not acknowledged in the WHO  budget’s financial contributor database (which notes only that the Gates Foundation contributed $629 million to the WHO’s $4.5 billion two-year budget), or in the WHO’s Register of non-State Actors (which notes only that the: foundation has “engagements with select members of the pharmaceutical…[and] food and beverage industries.”).

Underfunding of the WHO by Member States undermines its capacity to perform its vital global public health work, which is especially important to low and middle income 
countries with limited local health policy capacities.  Making up WHO budget shortfalls with funding from major investors in food, drug, and alcohol companies (which are often headquartered in wealthy countries) further middle income compromises the independence of the WHO. Granting the Gates Foundation Official Relations status signifies a sharp departure from the post-WWII tradition of the World Health Assembly and makes a mockery of the conflict of interest safeguards purported to underpin the new “Framework of engagement with non-State actors (FENSA).”

We urge the Executive Board to defer the decision to accept the Gates Foundation and any other new and legacy applicants for Official Relations status for which there has been no conflict of interest safeguard review on the record for consideration by 
Member States of the Executive Board.  It is, of course, deeply troubling from a governance standpoint that the Executive Board is being asked to approve applicants for Official Relations and verify compliance with conflicts of interest safeguards without being provided with any relevant evidence—verified or otherwise—on the public record.

Respectfully submitted by the undersigned public interest, health, and citizens’ groups:


  1. African Centre for Global Health & Social Transformation (ACHEST) (Uganda)
  2. Alcohol Justice (USA)
  3. Algerian Network of Small-Scale Fishing Organisation (Algeria)  
  4. Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS)(United Kingdom)
  5. Baby Milk Action IBFAN-UK (United Kingdom) 
  6. Bread for the World
  7. BUKO Pharma-Kampagne (Germany)
  8. Cefemina, International Baby Food Action Network (Costa Rica, Latin America)
  9. Centre for Health Science and Law (Canada)
  10. Center for Women’s Global Leadership, State University of New Jersey
  11. Drug Action Forum (India)
  12. FIAN International (Global, Germany)
  13. Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) (Australia)
  14. Happy Evolution Global Association (Poland)
  15. Health Innovation in Practice (HIP) (Global, Switzerland)
  16. Housing and Land Rights Network, Habitat International Coalition
  17. Geneva Infant Feeding Association (IBFAN-GIFA) (Switzerland)
  18. International Assn. for Hospice and Palliative Care (Global, USA)
  19. International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN-Asia)
  20. International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) (Brasil)
  21. International Code Documentation Centre (Global, The Netherlands)
  22. International Community Supported Agriculture Network (URGENCI) (France)
  23. International Indian Treaty Council (Oceania Region)
  24. INFACT Canada and Infant Baby Food Action Network IBFAN (Global, Canada)
  25. Initiative for Health & Equity in Society (India)
  26. IOGT International (Sweden)
  27. Lactation Consultants of Great Britain (United Kingdom)
  28. Medico International (Germany)
  29. Medicus Mundi Int’l Network Health for All (Global, Switzerland)
  30. Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Assn. (Nigeria)
  31. People’s Health Movement (Global)    
  32. El Poder del Consumidor (Mexico)
  33. Public Health Resource Network (India)
  34. Society for International Development (SID) (Italy/Kenya)
  35. Third World Network (India)
  36. Transnational Institute (TNI) (The Netherlands)
  37. Wemos (The Netherlands)
  38. World Public Health Nutrition Association (Global, United Kingdom)

[See letter for details at: http://tinyurl.com/WHO-Gates]
For more information, contact: Bill Jeffery at the Centre for Health Science and Law at BillJeffery@HealthScienceAndLaw.ca or 613-565-2140 (mobile) or by Skype: CHSLBillJeffery.

Background on CHSL:  The Centre for Health Science and Law, a signatory to the joint statement, is a non-profit health advocacy organization and publisher of Food for Life Reportthe first issue (Jan/Feb 2017) of which was published this month.  The Centre accepts no funding from industry or government and Food for Life Report carries no advertising.  


IP Watch   Is Gates Foundation, WHO’s Biggest Private Funder, Ineligible To Join WHO?

Times of India   Civil Society Groups protest WHO move to give Gates Foundation official role  30.1.17

Politico  Advocacy groups say WHO proposal with Gates foundation is a conflict of interest.  by Peter O’Donnell  This article includes the following comment from the BMGF:

The Gates Foundation said it provides the WHO with funding to achieve global health goals approved by the body’s member countries. It wants to formalize its relationship with WHO to create clear norms and guidelines for our ongoing support, said Chris Elias, the foundation’s president of global development.

“In this and all our work, the foundation operates as a separate entity from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust. Foundation staff have no influence on the trust’s investment decisions and no visibility into its investment strategies or holdings, other than through what is publicly available,” he said. “This two-entity structure ensures that the foundation’s work remains independent from the trust’s investments, and focused solely on fulfilling our mission to improve quality of life for the world’s poorest.”

It is worth noting that Bill and Melinda Gates are the only two trustees for the Trust and only two of the three Foundation Trustees. The other is  Warren Buffett. 
http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Who-We-Are/General-Information/Foundation-Factsheet    http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Who-We-Are/General-Information/Financials/Foundation-Trust

Article  in Il Manifesto, Italy:  (see page 16)




Other articles:

Gated Development  Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? Global Justice now




  • One thought on “Open letter regarding the Gates Foundation application for official relations

    • 27/01/2017 at 6:44 pm

      Please add my name to this appeal. I am an IBCLC in private practice, and with a special interest in HIV and breastfeeding.


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