Amazon investors push for racial equity audit, worker on board

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The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics centre in Boves, France, January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/Files

Two Amazon.com Inc. institutional investors are pushing the world’s largest online retailer to conduct an audit on racism and diversity. Another shareholder wants Amazon to name a worker to its board.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund and Vermont State Treasurers Office co-filed a shareholder resolution calling on the company to assess its impact on civil rights, racial equity, diversity and inclusion. They suggest Amazon solicit input from employees and civil-rights groups for the report and post it on the company website.

“Amazon has said it stands with the nationwide movement to identify and bring an end to systemic racism, yet it continues to face claims of racial discrimination,” said Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller and trustee of the New York fund, which has $226 billion of assets. The company can benefit by studying these issues and developing a plan to address them, as well as ensuring that its policies and actions truly align with its words, he said.

America’s second-largest employer has been criticized for its treatment of workers even as the wealth of Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos has surged. The New York retirement fund and Vermont treasurer’s office cited alleged discrimination of the company’s Black and Latinx workers, their low wages and exposure to dangerous working conditions, including Covid-19, as well as the air pollution from distribution facilities located in minority neighborhoods.

Officials at Seattle-based Amazon weren’t immediately available to comment.

Ten resolutions were filed Thursday by investors, including foundations and socially responsible money managers, for next year’s proxy season. The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, which has 300 members managing more than $2 trillion, organized the shareholders. Every year, Amazon investors propose a range of resolutions, many of which are voted down.

Oxfam America and the Rhode Island State Treasurers Office urged Amazon to put an hourly worker on its board. They said Amazon lacks representation from such employees who thoroughly understand the company’s daily operations.

“Amazon has developed a reputation for running workers ragged, leaving hourly associates — disproportionately people of color — overworked and underpaid,” said Sarah Zoen, senior policy adviser at Oxfam America’s private sector department.

Other resolutions included requests for reports on the company’s efforts to combat hate speech, the use of plastic packaging and the potential misuse of Amazon’s facial recognition technology. One called for a policy that the board chair position be reserved for someone who hasn’t previously served as an executive officer at the company.

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