Amazon, listening to workers is good business
“I know from my own experience working at Amazon that she doesn’t listen to her employees. I have tried several times to raise concerns about workplace safety, schedules and discipline–but the managers are not available, do not listen to me or just fire me. I am not alone.”
–Jennifer Bates, Amazon warehouse worker in Bessemer, AL
When we join other shareholders at Amazon’s Annual General Meeting on May 26, we expect the format to look a lot like last year – online, condensed to about an hour, with very strict limits on speaking time.
However, a lot has changed in the past year. The building’s momentum – outside on the streets and inside on warehouse floors – is distinctly different this time around.
Amazon workers like Jennifer Bates are tired of the constant battles they face on a daily basis just to make their voices heard, and are rising up and speaking out.
Workers report being treated like robots, constantly watched and rushed to work every second, faster and faster. Amazon can afford to do better: The company reaped extraordinary profits during the pandemic, making $ 66 million in profit EVERYDAY in 2020. Allies like Athena and #MakeAmazonPay are organize actions across the country this week to amplify that message.
That’s why we tabled a proposal asking the company to put an hourly partner, like Jennifer, on its board of directors. It has the potential to make a huge difference in the lives and well-being of workers.
Currently, Amazon’s board lacks many important voices. The board does not include any hourly associates who fully understand the day-to-day operations of the business. And it stays predominantly male and white, although a large percentage of Amazon’s hourly associates are female and of various racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Hold Amazon accountable
Last year, our shareholder proposal called on Amazon to tackle human rights violations in its supply chain, specifically pushing the company to conduct at least one human rights impact study in a high-risk industry. This proposal won nearly 40% of the independent votes (very high for this type of proposal).
We were encouraged, at the time, to see that Amazon replied by defining deliverables limited in time:
“In 2020, we will broaden our risk assessment approach by engaging in a company-wide assessment of our key human rights risks and conducting rights impact assessments. human resources to delve into specific products, regions or risk areas, which we will communicate to clients. and stakeholders. “
Now that’s a year later, and the company hasn’t provided any evidence that this work is in progress – or any explanation for the delay. Meanwhile, America’s second largest supermarket, Kroger, freshly published a bold commitment to human rights due diligence with even greater specificity and clarity. And, in the EU, mandatory human rights due diligence is underway, following other European countries that have already enacted legislation. If Amazon is unwilling to listen to its shareholders on this front, then perhaps impending legislation will cause it to budge.
Listening to workers is good business
Increasingly, the business community realizes that employee perspectives are valuable to boards. Institutional shareholder services supports Oxfam’s resolution this year.
the Advising Institutional Investors recently conducted a survey of employee access to the boards of directors of S & P100 companies, and found growing support for policies that encourage interaction of directors with employees. 97 percent had policies that board members have access to management or employees; about half had policies granting board members access to all employees; and 36 percent detailed a process by which boards interact with employees.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, these companies with employee representatives on the board have done better than companies without; the benefits include higher profits, capital market valuation, employee development, and capital and R&D investments. A study found that between 2006 and 2011, cumulative returns to shareholders in companies with employee representatives on the board were 28% higher than in companies without.
It’s not a partisan issue
Survey in the United States shows substantial public support (over 53%) across party lines for employee representation, and a growing number of lawmakers are backing the idea. Senator Marco Rubio, with twelve other Conservatives, suggest that workers on boards are a way to strengthen workers’ voices and corporate governance.
Although Amazon claims to have systems in place to allow workers to provide feedback securely, the situation is clearly inadequate; workers continue to speak out in the media or through protests over conditions and compensation; in some cases, take legal action.
When Jennifer speaks directly to Jeff Bezos and the board on May 26, her message will be clear:
“Having one of us on the Amazon board would be transformative. It would demonstrate to all of us who work at Amazon that the company values and wants to hear from its employees at the highest level of management. It would send the signal that our voices matter. It would also be beneficial for the company. We want this business to be successful and we can make sure that leadership understands its most important asset – its people. “