Amazon shareholders challenge wages, taxes and working conditions

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Amazon shareholders will challenge the company on executive pay, tax transparency, working conditions and unionization, as Chief Executive Andy Jassy faces his first annual meeting at the helm of the e-commerce giant and cloud computing.

The billion-dollar technology company opposes 15 shareholder proposals, the most it has faced since 2010, according to regulatory filings. During this period, no proposal received 50% support and the vote always followed the council’s recommendations. Founder and former chief executive Jeff Bezos himself controls 12.7% of the overall vote.

Still, the strength of the opposition could force the company to change its policies and practices as Big Tech companies are increasingly challenged by investors who want them to become more responsive to public controversies.

Wednesday’s AGM also represents a test of leadership for Jassy, ​​who took over from Bezos last July, as he seeks to address the far-reaching challenges facing the company.

This pressure has increased since the start of the year, with Amazon’s share price falling nearly 40% amid the massive tech sell-off, but also due to rising costs for the industry. Amazon retail.

Other tech giants have been vulnerable to shareholder petitions in recent years. In March, Apple shareholders backed a “civil rights audit” and more than a third of investors rebelled against chief executive Tim Cook’s pay. In November 2021, Microsoft shareholders overwhelmingly backed a protest vote calling on the company to say more about its handling of sexual harassment complaints.

Previous unsuccessful but strong shareholder votes at Amazon prompted the company to release an environmental impact report, which it did for the first time in 2019. More recently, a report on warehouse safety of Amazon has confirmed that its injury rates are higher than its peers in warehousing. sector.

A proposed racial equality audit this year was withdrawn after Amazon commissioned former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to lead such a report. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who had filed the proposal, said he was confident Lynch’s review would address his concerns.

The audit was proposed last year and attracted 44.18% support – the highest level of support for a shareholder proposal that year.

This year, Amazon union leader Chris Smalls will ask Amazon to release a report detailing its policies on “freedom of association” and collective bargaining. Smalls was the architect of the first successful labor campaign at an American Amazon factory.

The proposal, along with another calling for an independent audit of working conditions at Amazon facilities, was backed by influential investor advisory groups Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis. Norwegian pension fund Norges Bank said it would vote in favor of both proposals.

Norges Bank gave similar support to a call for more transparent tax reporting. Additionally, Glass Lewis and Morningstar Sustainalytics asked investors to vote in favor of the resolution that would significantly overhaul the tech giant’s disclosures about where and how much it pays in taxes around the world.

Katie Hepworth, tax manager at consultancy Pirc, which backs the resolution, said more than 10% of shareholders backing the vote would be “meaningful” and could influence Amazon to accept the proposal. “It’s about investors sending a message about what matters to them,” she said.

Asset managers including Nordea and Royal London have previously backed the shareholder resolution on tax. Amazon said the requested disclosures would mean revealing competitively sensitive information.

Several groups are also challenging the board on corporate leadership issues, including the $214 million salary package for Jassy. ISS said the new chief’s pay, and that of other senior executives, lacked “objective performance criteria, exacerbating a mismatch between pay and performance”.

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