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

Amazon has been on a wild journey during the last yr.

The Seattle retail and tech large’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 employees final yr, elevated its already colossal warehouse capability by 50% and usurped Boeing as Washington state’s largest employer.

Yet 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 – held nearly — Amazon’s traders will suggest greater than a dozen initiatives that advocates say are aimed 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 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 yr fairly like 2020.

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

During the previous 18 months, shareholders word on this yr’s proxy assertion (resolutions begin on web page 23), the corporate has been besieged with allegations in regards to the wellbeing of its warehouse employees, potential abuse of its facial recognition and surveillance know-how, antitrust considerations, its remedy of ladies and minority workers and extra.

In reality, shareholders have put forth a proposal this yr that may successfully drive 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 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 employees 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 had been faltering. But lawmakers and employee advocates have been skeptical.

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

Earlier this yr, Amazon mounted a vigorous – and profitable – marketing campaign to defeat a union vote at considered one of its warehouses in Bessemer, Ala. The firm’s techniques in the course of the unionization vote at the moment are beneath overview 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 employees on the corporate’s board of administrators, in line with Oxfam, the social justice and antipoverty group.

In a press release, Oxfam accused Amazon of constant “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 had 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 talent stage and being sluggish to advertise them.

In addition, Amazon Web Services and Amazon’s client merchandise arm are beset with skepticism over how the corporate’s know-how is getting used.

Amazon has, for now, banned gross sales of its facial recognition know-how 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 know-how to violate civil and human rights.

Shareholders are additionally calling for better 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 coloration.

Yet one other group of shareholders are asking Amazon to account for plastic packaging that will find yourself on this 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 gained’t get a listening to at Wednesday’s shareholders assembly is Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), which has pressured Amazon previously to take extra aggressive measures to curb local weather change.

Jamie Kowalski, a former Amazon software program improvement 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 yr’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 yr after Amazon fired two of its leaders, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. The National 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 fireplace 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 know-how is used responsibly and equitably by governments and different prospects and to make sure employee security.

Those measures, the corporate mentioned, embrace panels of specialists carefully monitoring how its facial recognition know-how and different merchandise are deployed, packages aimed toward selling minority workers and even the usage of machine studying to cut back the usage of plastic packaging in delivery supplies.

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

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