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June 12, 2015
Shareowners Target Amazon on Human Rights and Climate
    by Robert Kropp

Sustainable shareowners submitted four resolutions addressing environmental, social, and corporate governance issues at this week's annual general meeting, as pressure grows for the company to improve its sustainability performance.


Advocates for effective environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) were out in force at Amazon.com's annual general meeting this week. James McRitchie, the operator of the essential corporate governance website CorpGov.net, submitted a resolution calling for improved proxy access for the company's shareowners. “The right of shareholders to nominate board candidates is fundamental to good governance and board accountability,” the resolu tion states. And, McRitchie continued, quoting the CFA Institute, “proxy access has the potential to enhance board performance and raise overall US market capitalization by between $3.5 billion and $140.3 billion.”

The resolution, which was opposed by Amazon's board (as were all the other ESG-related resolutions), gained an impressive 41% of shareowner support.

In another important take on corporate governance,
Investor Voice presented a resolution urging Amazon to join the increasing number of large corporations that disclose their political contributions, including payments to trade associations that may use those payments for political purposes. The resolution notes that Amazon ranks near the bottom of the CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability.

The social aspect of ESG was addressed by
SumOfUs.org, which filed a resolution calling for a human rights risk assessment based on the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, authored by Professor John Ruggie and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. “Amazon’s business model exposes the company to significant human rights risks,” the resolution states. “Human rights risk assessment and reporting would help Amazon to identify and mitigate human rights risks and would allow shareholders to understand their potential impact on shareholder value.”

Invited by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to speak at the meeting was Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson, who last year observed that the company was “skewed toward white-male supremacy,” said at the meeting, “You can certainly build a pipeline to engage African Americans, Latinos and women to change the face of technology.”

Noting that “Amazon has minimal disclosure on how it manages ESG issues,”
Calvert Investments submitted a resolution requesting that the company join peers such as Intel, Microsoft, and Google, and produce a comprehensive sustainability report. “Reporting on the company’s impact on climate change is particularly crucial as it is one of the most financially significant environmental issues currently facing investors,” the resolutions states. “We believe no firm is immune to the prospect of future carbon regulations or the physical impacts of climate change.”

One environmental advocacy group has launched a different strategy to pressure Amazon into taking climate change seriously. Green America recently initiated its
Amazon: Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign. Amazon burns enough energy to power 600,000 homes, the campaign states, and more than three-quarters of that power comes from fossil fuel sources.

Amazon Web Services “is the single largest provider of cloud computing services,” Green America states. However, “AWS has disclosed virtually no useful information about its energy use and its impacts on the climate. Additionally, while the company has pledged to shift to renewable energy, it has no plan or deadline to achieve this goal.”

Many of Amazon's peers, including Apple, Facebook, and Google, have committed to data centers that will run on 100% renewable energy. This week, in response to
a letter from many of its customers, Amazon Web Services announced that it will build a $150 million solar farm in Virginia.

 

 
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