Amazon Employees Try a New Form of Activism, as Shareholders



Amazon employees are using the shares issued by the company to pressure top executives to reduce contributions to climate change, in what could be an unprecedented effort to expand the concerns of technology workers towards a new front. of shareholder activism.

Amazon's declaration of power, published on Thursday, includes an employee-backed resolution that asks the company to publicly report on how it plans to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and manage the risks posed by climate change. On Wednesday, supporters published an open letter signed by more than 5,200 employees calling on CEO Jeff Bezos and the board of directors to support the resolution. In the letter, employees also asked Amazon to stop offering their cloud services to the oil and gas industries.

The resolution will be a difficult sale. In the declaration of power, the Amazon board recommended that shareholders vote against the proposal, saying the request to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and think critically about how it plans to address the disruption related to climate change was unnecessary. , "given our commitment to reveal our general carbon". paw print."

Still, the change could be a harbinger of a new kind of activism for technology workers laden with actions, as employees become more open about the direction of their employers, from petitions and stoppages to organizing groups .

According to Professor David Larcker, director of the Stanford Corporate Governance Research Initiative, proposals from politically or socially motivated shareholders are often the territory of outside activist investors or advocacy groups, so it is particularly unusual to see A coalition of employees use their shares earned in this way.

Technological giants like Amazon may be to blame for their own companies. For technology workers, shares (or stock options) are a common part of compensation packages, allowing employees to use their participation in a company as something more than a gold ticket for the millionaire.

"Because it is Silicon Valley, you are sharing many young types of millennia. [and] "People are technology oriented and may have very different goals from very traditional shareholders or even institutional investors," says Larcker. Think that the idea is likely to be successful with technology workers elsewhere.

"Obviously they want to earn some money with the stocks that are [holding], but many of them have really embraced environmental and social problems and are using their voice to say that, "he adds." I would not be surprised to see other things that happen like that, especially if the group gets some kind of desirable result from their perspective " .

The shareholders 'proposal for Amazon workers' climate change was presented in December and will be voted on by the shareholders at the company's annual meeting on May 22, along with 11 other proposals endorsed by shareholders. The litany of issues raised in these proposals speaks to many of the most pressing controversies facing the company. One asks the board to stop selling facial recognition technology to government agencies until an independent evaluation confirms that it is not a violation of human rights. Another asks the Amazon board to commission an independent study to determine to what extent its facial recognition technology is disproportionately directed at people of color and immigrants, and is being marketed to authoritarian regimes. A third party asks the company to prepare a report on its plan to address hate speech and the sale of offensive products, including "racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic articles," on its platforms. Another requests a review of the company's badual harbadment policies; one asks for more transparency regarding the lack of ideological diversity in the council; and another one requests data on the global average wage gap between male and female employees.

The Amazon board recommended voting against all of them in the power of attorney statement published on Thursday.

Jamie Kowalski, an Amazon software engineer who was among the employees who filed the resolution, called the board's opposition "one step in the wrong direction and sends the wrong message to our employees." Kowalski said that "it is clear from the fact that more than 5,400 employees have signed our letter that we are pbadionate about Amazon becoming a leader in climate change."

It is worth noting that the shareholders' proposals are not binding, but that does not mean that they do not make sense. "If one happened, most tables would. [recognize] that shareholders have a very specific point of view, and will probably take some action, "says Larcker.

Most boards initially recommend against shareholders' proposals, he says. But he acknowledges that the proposal and the company's response are only the first stage of a debate between Amazon employees and the administration that will evolve over the next month. "Many people [and] The employees will be watching to see what the consequences are. "It could be an extraordinary event to see how the board handles it and if the employees have the power, the persuasion, to influence the board."


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