On the heels of one has failed the union of Amazon.com Inc. in the U.S. last month, labor activists expect a meeting of the company’s shareholders to culminate Wednesday with a worker joining the e-commerce giant’s board of directors.
A shareholder resolution backed by some investors, including Oxfam America, requires the Seattle-based corporation to incorporate an hourly worker on the governing board to make key financial and management decisions.
The proposal would expand the influence of employees – and communities where Amazon manages compliance centers – on a larger corporate drive to enhance the power of other stakeholders beyond ownership and executives.
In an unexpected move, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) CEO has advised shareholders to approve the proposal, even though Amazon’s own board is against the resolution.
Amazon’s board also opposes resolutions to appoint an independent president, publish disclosures about possible anti-competitive practices, and implement a racial equity audit.
Few large U.S. companies offer a worker a seat at the board table. But the issue has gained visibility with a greater focus on social justice and income inequality.
Last month, employees of Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, overwhelmingly rejected the proposal to form the company’s first union in the U.S.
Jennifer Bates, a Bessemer worker who voted for the union, has to comment at the shareholders’ meeting in which she says having representation on the board “would send a signal that our voices are important.”
“I know, from my own experience working at Amazon, that I don’t listen to their workers,” Bates says. “I have tried on many occasions to raise concerns about safety, scheduling and discipline in the workplace.”
The prospects of “employees” are valuable “
Sarah Zoen, Oxfam America’s political adviser, said the council’s resolution is symbolic.
“While we would like to get a high total vote, we do not expect this proposal to happen,” he told Al Jazeera. “That said, we are not presenting such proposals with the aim of overcoming them.”
“We use the resolution as an opportunity to highlight labor issues in a company’s own operations, as well as to raise other human rights concerns throughout its supply chain and ultimately drive the company’s action. and increase accountability, ”Zoen said.
The business community is increasingly realizing that employee prospects are crucial to advice, he added.
A recent Institutional Investors Board survey of employee access to S&P 100 corporate boards showed growing support for policies that encourage the director’s interaction with employees.
The vast majority, 97%, had policies to which board members have access to both management and employees. About half had company policies that gave board members access to all employees, while 36% have a process by which boards can interact with employees.
Oxfam is part of a global coalition, Make Amazon Pay, that focuses on workers ’rights.
“Amazon could be a leading U.S. company in this space,” Zoen said. “We’re losing confidence in Amazon to really address these concerns if commitments are not met.”
‘We need a better view’
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment specifically to Al Jazeera on the board’s resolution.
However, the company’s 2021 representation report (PDF) contains full responses to all of this year’s shareholder proposals.
“We have also long recognized the importance of employee involvement in our decision-making processes,” the company states in its investor relations material. “Our global workforce of approximately 1.3 million employees is made up of very diverse people with very diverse jobs, from software development, to product development and product sourcing functions, to staffing customer service centers, compliance centers, data centers and physical stores “.
The statement went on to say that Amazon has several policies “to promote a consistent, honest and open engagement with our employees … to continually improve our workplace and employee experience.”
In its latest version shareholder letter, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he is “proud that Amazon is a company that does more than create jobs for computer scientists and people with advanced degrees.”
“Despite what we have achieved, I am clear that we need a better vision for the success of our employees,” Bezos wrote. “I am committed to an addition. We will be the best entrepreneur on Earth and the safest job on Earth. “
“The best thing left for management”
Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. are among the only U.S. companies to have employee representation on their boards of directors, and these shareholder resolutions have still generated a lot of traction in many companies. But ISS support could be decisive on Amazon.
Even without a majority vote in favor, the resolution could still lead to significant changes.
Glass Lewis, another chief executive officer, does not support the resolution to have one-hour shareholder representation on the board due to concerns about board independence and dilution of shareholder value.
“Glass Lewis believes it’s best to leave it to administrations to hire advice policies,” an analysis in the firm’s Amazon representation document prepared for Wednesday’s meeting said.
“Requiring the company to consider candidates from a relatively narrow group denies the principle of selecting the most qualified directors to be on the board at all times,” he continued.
Employee rights have been highlighted along with customer concerns and negative impacts on communities living near Amazon distribution centers.
This week, Amazon has been under regulatory pressure, as Attorney General of Washington, DC accused the company to practice anti-competitive practices.
And the focus has also been on environmental racism, with some business climate activists alleging – as part of the racial equity audit proposal – that Amazon’s facilities are causing a disproportionate pollution in minority neighborhoods.