Amazon’s stock has increased six-fold in the last five years, making investors lots of money. But at this year’s annual meeting, the amount of criticism leveled at the company in the form of shareholder resolutions was unprecedented. Investors voted on 12 of the proposals with none getting a majority vote, but they highlight issues that some shareholders believe could adversely impact Amazon’s future business.
- Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos was invited on stage by employees at the annual shareholders meeting to commit to bold climate leadership. He chose not to participate. If you were Jeff Bezos, what would have you done? Why?
- How could Amazon’s apparent inaction on climate change issues potentially lead to the company having problems attracting and retaining talented employees?
- Concerning Amazon’s controversial Rekognition software, are investors correct in their assessments that short-term profit is not worth the long-term reputational and civil rights costs?
- “It’s really hard to be motivated when you feel like you’re contributing to a problem instead of addressing it,” Rebecca Sheppard, a senior product manager at Amazon and one of the climate change letter’s signatories, said before Amazon’s annual meeting.
- According toMichael Connor, the executive director of Open MIC, “It takes a long time to educate people about these issues and to bring major shareholders on.”
- Amazon has already experienced climate impacts on its operations including: An Amazon Web Services server going down in Sydney during high levels of rainfall and the closing of its Minnesota fulfillment center due to extremely cold temperatures.
The proposals sought changes from Amazon on a range of issues, from sexual harassment to hate speech and two about the company’s controversial facial recognition technology. The most notable proposal on climate change and the company’s environmental impact came from over 7,600 of Amazon’s employees who signed a letter asking the company to adopt the resolution.
Shareholder groups originally submitted 14 proposals to be voted on at the 2019 meeting, the most sent to any corporation this year, according to Alliance Advisors. This also aligns with a broader increase in shareholder activism, where groups of investors submit resolutions designed to force corporations to address issues like diversity, human rights, and the environment.
Amazon fought the resolutions with a company lawyer reportedly trying to persuade employees to withdraw their climate change proposal, without success. The company asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to keep the two facial recognition resolutions from coming to a vote. It was unclear why Amazon didn’t also fight the climate change proposal with the SEC.
Even though the resolution’s supporters lost, these issues aren’t going away anytime soon. “These proposals, to be effective and to attract the attention of a company, they don’t need to be a 50 percent vote,” says Michael Connor, the executive director of Open MIC, a nonprofit that works with tech investors and helped write the facial recognition proposals.
Some investors are alarmed that Amazon has already given its facial recognition tools to several US police departments. The first of their proposals called for Amazon to stop selling its controversial Rekognition software to governments until it could assess the associated human rights risks and the second asked the company to conduct an outside civil rights audit of the product.