NEW YORK, NY, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 1, 2022 – At Amazon.com, Inc.’s ($AMZN) annual meeting of shareholders on May 25th, a group of shareholder-sponsored proposals highlighting a range of environmental and social risks achieved extremely high levels of support – and in several cases majority support from independent (non-insider) shares.
The increasing level of support behind the proposals is a sign of mounting investor concern around Amazon’s risk oversight related to its business model, governance structure, its treatment of its workers, and the potential civil and human rights harms associated with the technologies it sells.
Excluding insider-owned shares, three shareholder proposals actually won majority support, a feat that is exceedingly difficult to achieve, given that the vast majority of shares are held by Amazon insiders and founder Jeff Bezos.
The full list of proposals, proponents, and votes is available at this link.
A crop of new proposals responded to reports about longstanding issues related to Amazon’s treatment of its vast workforce, issues that became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A critical mass of shareholders delivered a stinging rebuke to Amazon’s leadership regarding the company’s high injury rates, unsustainable turnover, and blatant violations of workers’ rights to freedom of association,” said NY City Comptroller Brad Lander who filed a proposal seeking a Report on Worker Health and Safety Differences. “The significant percentage of no-confidence votes in Director McGrath, chair of the board committee overseeing workforce issues, show that Amazon must take these concerns seriously. Shareholders, like the New York City Retirement Systems, recognize that the company’s long-term value depends on the well-being of its workforce, the second largest in the nation. The Board must demonstrate to investors that they are responsive to shareholders and taking action to address these risks to the company’s long-term value.”
“For the first time ever, shareholders voted on freedom of association and collective bargaining rights and more than 47% of shareholders independent from the management backed up the proposal”, said Sarah Couturier-Tanoh, of SHARE which filed a proposal calling for reporting on Freedom of Association. “This is a big win for workers and labor organizations across the world. As one of the largest employers, Amazon has the power to influence labor rights globally. Amazon can no longer ignore its union problem as workers, investors, and regulators expect the board and the management to demonstrate a genuine intention to respect workers’ rights, including freedom of association and collective bargaining across its operations.” Angelika Maldonado, a leader with the Staten Island, NY-based Amazon Labor Union spoke to the resolution on SHARE's behalf. "Amazon management wasted millions of dollars in anti-union consultants and it all backfired," she said. "What a waste of time and money."
Daniel Olayiwola, an Amazon warehouse worker from Texas, filed and introduced a floor resolution calling for an end to the company’s workplace productivity metrics and surveillance practices. Only shareholders who attended the meeting live were able to vote in favor of Daniel’s resolution during the brief minutes he was introducing the resolution. After the meeting, Daniel said, “I’m proud to have made history and brought my resolution before Amazon’s annual meeting, and I was encouraged to hear fellow workers and shareholders raising similar concerns. The company may not want to hear it, but its exploitative workplace practices have to change. Amazon’s success is built on the backs of its workers, and without us, the whole company collapses.”
"Four Amazon warehouse workers introduced proposals at the AGM, including Isaiah Thomas, a current Amazon employee at the Bessemer, Alabama facility, who introduced item 16 - Tulipshare's proposal calling for an independent audit of warehouse working conditions, which received 44% of the vote,” said Constance Ricketts, of Tulipshare. “The elevation of these workers' voices passionate about improving the health and safety of their coworkers and putting an end to Amazon's ongoing injury and employee turnover crises further shows that, despite Amazon's best PR efforts, the company is not doing enough to keep workers safe. An injury rate double that of warehouse industry standards and a 150% employee turnover rate is not sustainable for employees, shareholders, or the company as a whole. Tulipshare will continue the fight to hold Amazon accountable for the perilous conditions its employees are subjected to."
Several of the proposals were previously filed and garnered increased support this year, including a proposal seeking a report on Amazon’s use of plastic packaging as well as proposals highlighting human and civil rights concerns around the sale of facial recognition software Amazon sells to government agencies known to further racial biases.
Said Conrad MacKerron, of As You Sow who filed the proposal seeking a Report on Packing Material that achieved 48.9% support, “This vote confirms that a wide range of mainstream investors are challenging Amazon to elevate the issue of plastic pollution and develop credible solutions to the global plastic pollution crisis now. Amazon should respond swiftly to the clear signal sent by shareholders by disclosing how much plastic it uses and devising a plan to significantly reduce its reliance on single-use plastic packaging such as its ubiquitous blue and white plastic bubble mailers.”
“Facial recognition technology, like Amazon’s Rekognition system, enables governments here in the U.S. and around the world to track and discriminate against people for their race, ethnicity, religion, identity, and political beliefs,”said Jennifer Lee of the ACLU of Washington regarding a proposal filed by Harrington Investments calling for an independent study of Customer Use of Certain Technologies. “Facial recognition chills speech and participation in democracy, society, and daily life. An independent study would assure that Amazon is aware of the costs to liberty, privacy, and safety that Rekognition brings to bear on those it surveils.”
Courtney Wicks of Investor Advocates for Social Justice which filed a proposal seeking a Report on Customer Due Diligence on behalf of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood said, "Shareholders sent a clear message to management that the company needs to understand how its products are being used and by whom. The human rights implications are too high for Amazon to ignore."
“Amazon shareholders voted on an Oxfam proposal to add a worker to the company’s board of directors, presented by Jennifer Bates, a worker and union organizer at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama,” said Robbie Silverman of Oxfam America which filed a proposal calling for an Alternative Director Policy. “We believe it would make a profound difference for directors to hear directly from a worker about what actually happens in Amazon warehouses, stores, and trucking facilities every day: injuries, non-stop surveillance, union-busting, sky-high turnover rates—and the sheer need for dignity and respect for every person who works for the company. As long as Amazon turns a deaf ear to demands from workers, the company will fail to make changes that can enhance the health, safety, and dignity of the workforce, and the financial success and sustainability of the company itself.”
“We are pleased to see that Amazon shareholders have supported this first-time resolution with nearly double the support needed to bring it back next year,” said As You Sow CEO Andrew Behar regarding their proposal seeking a Report on 401K Alignment with Climate Goals. “Based on interviews with Amazon employees, we see that the vast majority have no idea that their hard-earned savings are being invested in companies destroying the planet. It harms the integrity of the brand to have employees investing over $1 billion in oil, coal, and deforestation-risk agribusiness while simultaneously marketing themselves as climate leaders.”
“35% of Amazon’s independent investors voted in support of racial and gender pay reporting at last week’s annual meeting,” said shareholder proponent Natasha Lamb of Arjuna Capital. “Amazon cannot keep ignoring calls from investors to address this simple and reasonable request head-on. The company not only lags its peers, but it is also missing an opportunity to create a more diverse, equitable workplace.”
Said Seamus Finn of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate/OPI Investment Trust – U.S. Province regarding its proposal calling for greater Tax Transparency, “Most of the proposals at yesterday’s Amazon AGM emphasized how the company has failed to fulfill its commitments to its many stakeholders and failed to meet the fundamental criteria that are needed from all companies including paying their fair share of taxes in jurisdictions where they operate and to promote the common good.”
Shareholders are hopeful Amazon will be responsive to their proposals’ requests and agree to engage around these critical ESG issues.
About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
Celebrating its 51st year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of shareholder advocates who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for social change. Its 300-member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, NGOs, and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $4 trillion. ICCR members engage hundreds of corporations annually in an effort to foster greater corporate accountability. Visit our website www.iccr.org and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.