Who trusts corporates to help the poor when real agenda is clear?

Troubling piece in the Guardian that details the various ways in which supposedly well-meaning corporations are “helping” disadvantaged communities across the world but without appropriate government care are in fact making the situation worse. Vulture capitalism:

Nestlé is using a floating supermarket to take its products to remote communities in the Amazon. Unilever has a small army of door-to-door vendors selling to low-income villages in India and west and east Africa. The brewer SABMiller has developed cheap beers in some African countries as part of a “price ladder” to its premium lager brands, and, as a leading Coca-Cola bottler and distributor, is aiming to double fizzy drinks sales in South African townships.

As affluent western markets reach saturation point, global food and drink firms have been opening up new frontiers among people living on $2 a day in low- and middle-income countries. The world’s poor have become their vehicle for growth.

The companies say they are finding innovative ways to give isolated people the kind of choices the rich have enjoyed for years and are providing valuable jobs and incomes to some of the most marginalised. But health campaigners are raising the alarm. They fear the arrival of highly processed food and drink is also a vector for the lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and alcoholism, which are increasing at unprecedented rates in developing countries.

The South African minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, gives a grim interpretation of what that means for his country when he spoke to the Guardian earlier this month: “Health budgets will break because of the cost of amputations, artificial limbs, wheelchairs and cardiac surgery.”

A UN summit in New York in September confirmed the scale of the health crisis. Nearly two-thirds of all deaths worldwide in 2008 were attributable to lifestyle diseases. By 2030 these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are expected to be the cause of nearly five times as many deaths as the traditional, infectious scourges of poor nations such as TB, malaria and Aids.

Last year 39% of acquisition deals by consumer goods companies were in emerging markets, compared with just 1% in 2008, according to the Grocer’s OC&C Global 50 league table.

As diets and lifestyles in developing countries change, their patterns of disease are following those seen in industrialised countries in the north equally rapidly. But for poor countries there is a double whammy: they have started suffering from high rates of NCDs before they have managed to deal with hunger and malnutrition.The double burden is devastating both their economic growth and their health budgets.