With controversies mounting around Amazon, last week’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle was all but guaranteed to turn into a circus. It didn’t disappoint, as protestors assembled in the Emerald City to bring attention to their favorite causes.
The online retail giant has been taking heat on a wide range of governance issues, including consumer privacy, workplace diversity, and climate change policies. Yet, despite the fireworks inside and outside of the meeting, would-be Amazon reformers saw every one of their 12 shareholder proposals go down in defeat. The company’s board of directors opposed all of them.
Amazon’s own workforce is growing into a powerful force for corporate reform. Notably, the company faced what is considered the first employee-led shareholder proposal to develop a plan to minimize its impact on climate change.
At the meeting, Amazon employee Emily Cunningham presented a proposal to cut the company’s consumption of nonrenewable energy that garnered the support of more than 7,600 of her colleagues. Cunningham’s request for billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos to join her onstage was declined; he only went as far as talking up the importance of climate change during his remarks at the event. Ultimately, shareholders heeded the call of Amazon’s board of directors to vote down the proposal.
For climate change proposal: 101.7 million
Against: 227.6 million
Facial recognition software
Amazon is taking on a major role in the growth of facial recognition technology. Not surprisingly, its leading product in the area is making some of the company’s stakeholders squeamish. Amazon’s controversial facial recognition service, Rekognition, has raised concerns about threats to privacy and human rights. Critics point to potential problems related to high error rates for dark-skinned and female faces. They’ve voiced fears that the service could promote racial discrimination and surveillance when used by governments.
In the buildup to the meeting, Amazon executives tried to quash two separate shareholder proposals related to Rekognition, but they were thwarted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the end, the SEC’s rulings only delayed the inevitable: In a landslide, shareholders sided with management when the time came to vote on both measures.
For proposal to prohibit sale of facial recognition technology to government agencies: 8.2 million
Against: 328.2 million
For commissioning a report on risks associated with Rekognition: 94.2 million
Against: 239.6 million
ESG and executive compensation
More investors are seeking assurances that companies are paying attention to environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters. As a result, some companies have incorporated ESG performance metrics into how they calculate the compensation of senior executives. For the time being, Amazon won’t be joining their ranks. Shareholders nixed a proposal calling for the company’s board of directors to do an assessment of factoring in sustainability in executive pay.
Voters apparently weren’t swayed by the proposal’s note that “Amazon remains predominantly white and male, especially in leadership roles.” In fact, females made up about one in five of the company’s top 105 executives in 2016, according to the proposal, while “only one executive was an underrepresented person of color.”
For proposal to study incorporating ESG metrics into executive pay: 65 million
Against: 274.7 million