Amazon shareholders tackle tech giant’s prickliest problems after a turbulent year amid the pandemic

Protestors collect exterior Amazon’s 2019 shareholder assembly. (GeekWire Picture / Monica Nickelsburg)

Amazon has been on a wild trip over the past yr.

The Seattle retail and tech big’s income and inventory value have soared to document highs in the course of the pandemic as the corporate employed an astounding 500,000 new staff final yr, elevated its already colossal warehouse capability by 50% and usurped Boeing as Washington state’s largest employer.

But Amazon has come beneath fireplace throughout that very same interval over a heap of racial, gender, human rights, labor, environmental and financial points — and the corporate’s shareholders have taken discover.

At Wednesday’s shareholder assembly — usually hosted in Seattle however held virtually this yr — Amazon’s buyers will suggest greater than a dozen initiatives that advocates say are geared toward making the corporate a extra clear and conscientious company citizen.

Amazon’s board of administrators is preventing the entire measures, saying the corporate is already adequately addressing the problems raised within the proposals.

The shareholder resolutions are non-binding, however they’re a manner for buyers to construct consensus round sure company insurance policies and strain an organization to take motion.

Comparable proposals, additionally opposed by Amazon’s board, have been put ahead throughout earlier Amazon shareholder conferences. Every of them failed.

Nonetheless, Amazon has by no means confronted a yr fairly like 2020.

Amazon staff collect at The Spheres on the corporate’s Seattle campus to voice assist for day off to vote. (GeekWire Picture / Taylor Soper)

Through the previous 18 months, shareholders word in this year’s proxy statement (resolutions begin on web page 23), the corporate has been besieged with allegations in regards to the wellbeing of its warehouse staff, potential abuse of its facial recognition and surveillance expertise, antitrust considerations, its therapy of ladies and minority staff and extra.

The truth is, shareholders have put forth a proposal this yr that might successfully power Jeff Bezos out of the corporate he based after he steps down as CEO on this yr’s third quarter.

Bezos plans to stay chairman of Amazon’s board after he departs the CEO’s workplace, however the proposal would require that the board be led by “an impartial director who has not beforehand served as an government officer of the corporate.”

Permitting board chairs who’ve additionally served as CEO “weakens an organization’s governance, which might hurt shareholder worth,” shareholders stated within the proxy assertion.

The shareholders behind the proposal level out that Amazon has been more and more at odds with its “key constituencies,” together with small companies, its warehouse staff and “communities wherein it operates.”

Amazon stated it’s spent $11.5 billion on COVID-related measures, together with worker security, even constructing its personal COVID testing labs at a time when authorities testing efforts have been faltering. However lawmakers and employee advocates have been skeptical.

The corporate, in the meantime, has confronted allegations of excessive harm charges amongst its blue-collar staff.

Earlier this yr, Amazon mounted a vigorous – and profitable – marketing campaign to defeat a union vote at one in every of its warehouses in Bessemer, Ala. The corporate’s ways in the course of the unionization vote at the moment are beneath evaluation by federal officers.

Jennifer Bates, an Amazon warehouse worker in Bessemer, is predicted to name on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Wednesday to nominate one of many firm’s hourly staff on the corporate’s board of administrators, in response to Oxfam, the social justice and antipoverty group.

In a press release, Oxfam accused Amazon of constant “dehumanizing working situations” in its logistics services, in addition to “anti-union actions.”

(Amazon Picture)

Past Bessemer, Amazon has been hit with a string of gender and racial discrimination lawsuits filed by its company staff, together with 5 fits that have been filed final week.

The corporate has acknowledged that Black and different minorities make up far too little of its management and has pledged to diversify its prime ranks. Black staff, in the meantime, have accused the corporate of hiring them into company jobs beneath their talent stage and being gradual to advertise them.

As well as, Amazon Internet Providers and Amazon’s client merchandise arm are beset with skepticism over how the corporate’s expertise is getting used.

Amazon has, for now, banned gross sales of its facial recognition expertise to legislation enforcement companies, but a coalition of shareholders are calling for audits of how authorities companies, each right here within the U.S. and overseas, could also be abusing the expertise to violate civil and human rights.

Shareholders are additionally calling for higher scrutiny of how legislation enforcement companies make use of Amazon’s camera-equipped Ring doorbell, which connects to a social community the place footage and messages could be shared between neighbors and authorities. Among the many considerations is whether or not the product is getting used to disproportionately goal suspicion at individuals of coloration.

One more group of shareholders are asking Amazon to account for plastic packaging that will find yourself on the earth’s oceans.

“These controversies and working challenges could have resulted from Amazon’s speedy development, however they threaten to wreck our firm’s company status and monetary efficiency,” shareholders stated within the proxy assertion.

One group that received’t get a listening to at Wednesday’s shareholders assembly is Amazon Workers for Local weather Justice (AECJ), which has pressured Amazon prior to now to take extra aggressive measures to curb local weather change.

Jamie Kowalski, a former Amazon software program growth engineer who now leads AECJ, stated the group proposed a resolution calling on Amazon to account for what Kowalski referred to as “the racist impression” of its air pollution.

Kowalski stated Amazon’s warehouses are disproportionately positioned in geographic areas the place minorities reside. Huge fleets of huge rigs hauling packages to and from these services every day contribute to poor air high quality in these neighborhoods, the group says.

Kowalski stated Amazon fought the inclusion of the proposed decision on this yr’s shareholder assembly and the Securities and Change Fee dominated it out on a technicality.

“Clearly Amazon didn’t need to see shareholders vote on this proposal so it’s not going to be on the proxy poll,” he stated.

AECJ made nationwide headlines over the previous yr after Amazon fired two of its leaders, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. The Nationwide Labor Relations Board earlier this yr dominated that Amazon illegally retaliated towards the pair for his or her activism.

The Washington Post reported in January that Amazon additionally threatened to fireside Kowalski, who advised GeekWire he’s since left the corporate to consider what what’s subsequent for his profession.

In its proxy assertion, Amazon lists a protracted roster of measures it’s taking to guard the setting, guarantee its expertise is used responsibly and equitably by governments and different prospects and to make sure employee security.

These measures, the corporate stated, embody panels of consultants intently monitoring how its facial recognition expertise and different merchandise are deployed, packages geared toward selling minority staff and even using machine studying to cut back using plastic packaging in delivery supplies.

In the meantime, Amazon has all through the final yr introduced packages to cut back office accidents and make investments closely in renewable vitality.

The corporate has additionally touted its $15/hour beginning wage for logistics staff, which is greater than twice the federal minimal wage.

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