amazon-shareholders-sort-out-tech-big’s-prickliest-issues-after-a-turbulent-12-months-amid-the-pandemic
Protestors collect exterior Amazon’s 2019 shareholder assembly. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Amazon has been on a wild trip during the last 12 months.

The Seattle retail and tech big’s earnings and inventory worth have soared to file highs in the course of the pandemic as the corporate employed an astounding 500,000 new staff final 12 months, elevated its already colossal warehouse capability by 50% and usurped Boeing as Washington state’s largest employer.

Yet Amazon has come underneath 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 just about this 12 months — Amazon’s traders 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 combating all the measures, saying the corporate is already adequately addressing the problems raised within the proposals.

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

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

Still, Amazon has by no means confronted a 12 months fairly like 2020.

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

During the previous 18 months, shareholders be aware on this 12 months’s proxy assertion (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 remedy of ladies and minority workers and extra.

In truth, shareholders have put forth a proposal this 12 months that might successfully power Jeff Bezos out of the corporate he based after he steps down as CEO on this 12 months’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 independent director who has not previously served as an executive officer of the company.”

Allowing board chairs who’ve additionally served as CEO “weakens a corporation’s governance, which can harm shareholder value,” shareholders mentioned 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 in which it operates.”

Amazon mentioned 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. But lawmakers and employee advocates have been skeptical.

The firm, in the meantime, has confronted allegations of excessive damage charges amongst its blue-collar workers.

Earlier this 12 months, Amazon mounted a vigorous – and profitable – marketing campaign to defeat a union vote at one in every of its warehouses in Bessemer, Ala. The firm’s techniques in the course of the unionization vote are actually underneath evaluate 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, based on Oxfam, the social justice and antipoverty group.

In an announcement, Oxfam accused Amazon of continuous “dehumanizing working conditions” in its logistics amenities, in addition to “anti-union activities.”

(Amazon Photo)

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

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

In addition, Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s shopper 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 businesses, but a coalition of shareholders are calling for audits of how authorities businesses, 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 larger scrutiny of how legislation enforcement businesses 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 considerations is whether or not the product is getting used to disproportionately goal suspicion at folks of colour.

Yet one other group of shareholders are asking Amazon to account for plastic packaging that will find yourself on the planet’s oceans.

“These controversies and operating challenges may have resulted from Amazon’s rapid growth, but they threaten to damage our company’s corporate reputation and financial performance,” shareholders mentioned within the proxy assertion.

One group that received’t get a listening to at Wednesday’s shareholders assembly is Amazon Employees for Climate 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, mentioned the group proposed a decision calling on Amazon to account for what Kowalski referred to as “the racist impact” of its air pollution.

Kowalski mentioned Amazon’s warehouses are disproportionately positioned in geographic areas the place minorities dwell. Vast fleets of massive rigs hauling packages to and from these amenities every day contribute to poor air high quality in these neighborhoods, the group says.

Kowalski mentioned Amazon fought the inclusion of the proposed decision on this 12 months’s shareholder assembly and the Securities and Exchange Commission dominated it out on a technicality.

“Obviously Amazon did not want to see shareholders vote on this proposal so it’s not going to be on the proxy ballot,” he mentioned.

AECJ made nationwide headlines over the previous 12 months after Amazon fired two of its leaders, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. The National Labor Relations Board earlier this 12 months dominated that Amazon illegally retaliated in opposition to the pair for his or her activism.

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

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

Those measures, the corporate mentioned, embody panels of specialists carefully monitoring how its facial recognition expertise and different merchandise are deployed, packages geared toward selling minority workers and even the usage of machine studying to scale back the usage of plastic packaging in transport supplies.

Meanwhile, Amazon has all through the final 12 months introduced packages to scale back office accidents and make investments closely in renewable vitality.

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