Amazon Kills Shareholder Proposals on Worker Protections and AI Oversight

The proposals requested increased transparency on working conditions and freedom of association. Amazon recommended that shareholders vote against them.
Amazon Kills Shareholder Proposals on Worker Protections and AI Oversight
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Three Amazon shareholder proposals designed to improve working conditions at Amazon were killed at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday. 

The proposals, outlined in brief in Amazon’s 2024 proxy statement, included requests for additional reporting on how Amazon had undermined workers’ right to unionize, a report on warehouse conditions, and an additional board to oversee the implementation of AI in warehouses. The first of these, the proponent said, has been proposed for three years in a row and has continued to fail. 

“In past years there have been ongoing efforts from Amazon workers to form unions across North America and Europe,” the proponent, Sarah Couturier-Tanoh, said in the shareholder meeting. “Reports allege anti-union practices contradicting the human rights standards including the principle of non-interference…In our view, deploying so many resources to undermine what is right [in allowing workers] to exercise one of their most human rights is not in the best interest of shareholders. We hope votes will be seen by the board of directors as landmark for change and I hope the board will see an opportunity to revise its approach to shareholder engagement.”

Amazon has famously had one successful unionization in the U.S. at a warehouse in New York City, while numerous other elections have failed and workers at those warehouses have alleged retaliation by the company. Amazon has also hired union-busting consultants for its drivers, which it claims it does not employ. Amazon has also cut contracts with delivery service partners whose employees have voted to unionize.

In response to this proposal, Amazon’s board wrote in the proxy statement that a third-party oversight of its practices regarding unionization would be “unnecessary in light of our policies and practices respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining rights and the regulatory oversight of these policies and practices that already exists in the United States and elsewhere.”

“Amazon’s annual investor meeting will highlight the ways that Amazon is now fully able to flex its monopoly power to maximize profit for investors across several lines of business,” the Athena Coalition, which advocates for Amazon workers, said in a statement in advance of the meeting. “This short term, maximalist approach is enriching the company to the detriment of its own products, our economy, and the planet. Unfortunately, investors concerned with long-term sustainability, human rights, and worker wellbeing have been sidelined and the company has lobbied its largest shareholders to evade accountability and transparency proposals.”

A second proposal, shared by speaker Constance Ricketts at the meeting, requested a report on Amazon’s working conditions for warehouse employees. 

“Amazon worker injury rates are alarmingly high,” Ricketts said in the meeting. “In 2023, there were 40,000 reportable injuries with 94% as light duty or lost time, meaning the majority of those workers were either hurt so badly that they couldn't perform regular job functions, or they were forced to miss work entirely. OSHA data shows injury rates above industry norms across all Amazon warehouses, indicating systemic safety and job design issues. The Department of Justice and Senate HELP committee are investigating whether Amazon misreported its true number of injuries and probing Amazon’s safety practices, including relentless work pace and grueling conditions, underscoring a need for transparency and reform.” 

I’ve previously reported on the fast-paced environment Amazon drivers and warehouse workers are subjected to, leaving them often so pressed for time that they skip their breaks or cannot use the bathroom. There is also an ongoing lawsuit about this issue in Colorado.

A third proposal requested an additional board to oversee the implementation of AI in warehouses, and also referenced the abnormally fast-paced environment. 

“The pace of work for warehouse workers is set by a computer algorithm and workers are subject to discipline if not staying on pace,” said the proponent, Isaiah Thomas, who identified himself as a former Amazon warehouse employee in Alabama. “Last year, Amazon introduced artificial intelligence robots that can create occupational safety risks when working alongside humans. Two dozen warehouse workers in New Jersey were hospitalized in 2018 after a robot tore a can of bear repellent spray in a warehouse. The right to a safe workplace is an internationally recognized human right and adoption of artificial intelligence can impact rights in other ways.”

Amazon, in its recommendation against an audit of warehousing conditions, said this “would be duplicative because we have already publicly disclosed our workforce incident rates compared with industry data and we are already subject to extensive regulatory oversight and review.” Additionally, it said, “in contrast to what this proposal suggests, we do not require employees to meet specific productivity quotas.”

In anticipation of the meeting, the Strategic Organizing Center released its own Amazon injury data report, which found that the injury rate at Amazon warehouses was more than twice the industry standard. 

Overall, 14 total shareholder proposals were raised at the meeting and none of them passed. Amazon’s board had recommended voting against all 14.