Editor’s Note: Commentary from Amazon has been added to this story.
A group representing 41.8% of independent Amazon shareholders voted in favor of a labor rights assessment at the ecommerce giant during its annual shareholder meeting on May 24. The proposal demanded that Amazon commission a third-party assessment of the company’s commitment to workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.
The proposal was filed by SHARE and SOC Investment Group and received support from shareholders including the New York City Comptroller, Praxis Mutual Funds, Active Super and Norges Bank. Supporters believe an independent assessment could help Amazon and its board evaluate its conduct and mitigate any risks associated with labor rights, as well as guide its approach and conduct on related issues.
“By voting in support of the labor rights assessment, Amazon shareholders sent a strong message to the Board that the company will be better positioned to mitigate workforce-related risks, and could very well see reputational benefits, when it aligns its public commitments in support of workers’ freedom of association with actual day-to-day conduct toward employees,” said Tejal Patel, Executive Director of SOC Investment Group in a statement. “To date, the gulf between Amazon’s human rights commitments versus numerous reports of union interference exposes investors to real, material risks that could negatively impact long-term value. We look forward to supporting Amazon as it selects a credible third party with strong human rights and labor expertise to lead the assessment, maintain the objectivity of the investigation, and offer key global context.”
SOC noted that academic research has shown the presence of unions correlates positively with benefits including lower turnover, improved diversity, investment in training and lower levels of legal and regulatory violations, which have been found to improve worker productivity and performance.
The investment firm also noted that an assessment could increase transparency regarding Amazon’s management of union organizing and worker rights. Amazon’s actions during two unionization campaigns have come under fire by the National Labor Relations Board, though Administrative Law Judge Benjamin Green ultimately dismissed 19 out of 22 allegations.
Amazon said that it has already produced a report addressing how the retailer’s “policies and practices align with workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights,” according to an Amazon spokesperson. Amazon also noted that its policies and practices, as well as the information in the report, reflect this alignment, and that regulatory oversight already exists globally. As a result, the company believes that there is no need for a third-party assessment.
“Amazon’s policies and practices are designed to ensure respect for the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining while, at the same time, complying with the legal requirements of the countries where we operate,” said the spokesperson in commentary sent to Retail TouchPoints. “Amazon respects the rights of its employees to have freedom of opinion and expression, and we are committed to non-discrimination and non-retaliation that ensures equal treatment for union and non-union employees.”