APG and New York pension funds ask Amazon to report on employee safety measures

Move comes as seventh Amazon worker dies of COVID19 in the US

Web retail giant Amazon is being asked to report on planned measures to protect its employees from contracting COVID19.

In a joint open letter, Judith McGrath, board member and Chair of the committee responsible for overseeing employee health and safety, has been requested to personally brief shareholders on how the company “will measure and monitor the objectives, progress and success” of these upcoming measures at Amazon’s AGM later this month.

The company recently announced plans to invest $4bn (€3.7bn) in employee personal protection equipment (PPE), ‘enhanced’ cleaning of its facilities, new procedures to enable social distancing, higher wages and COVID19 testing capabilities.

McGrath is specifically being asked to report on performance metrics which will be used to assess these measures including number of employee viral cases, transmission rates and days lost due to COVID19. In addition, the letter requests an overview of whistle-blower protection for employees reporting unsafe working conditions, details of workplace safety and health advisors retained by the company and frequency of board Committee meetings.

The letter is signed by Dutch fund manager APG and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer – who represents the city’s five pension funds which have combined assets of $189bn (€174bn). The signatories have a combined $4.2bn (€3.9bn) stake in Amazon, according to the letter.

It comes as Amazon reportedly confirmed the death of another warehouse worker from COVID19 – bringing the number of Amazon employee fatalities to at least seven in the US.

The company has come under fierce criticism over a perceived failure to introduce adequate social distancing rules and provide PPE to front-line employees working during the outbreak.

Amazon has so far refused to disclose the number of its workers who have either contracted or died from the virus despite requests to do so, the most recent coming from a group of 13 US state attorney generals who sent a joint letter to the company earlier this week. In a recent television interview, Amazon Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations Dave Clark said that statistics on infections were “not a particularly useful number”.

The letter also noted “reports that the company has retaliated against some employees [who protested against their working conditions] and is pressuring sick employees to come to work”. Amazon’s treatment of its workers received media attention in early-May after the high-profile resignation of Tim Bray, an Amazon Vice President, over the company’s firing of employee activists.  

Amazon is also due to scrap a $2 hourly “hazard pay” which it introduced alongside increased overtime pay for warehouse workers during the virus outbreak from the end of May, according to reports.

Worldwide lockdowns have led to a surge of orders for Amazon, with the company recruiting an additional 175,000 workers to keep up with the demand. So far Amazon has resisted indefinitely closing down any of its warehouses – even those with confirmed COVID19 cases – except in France after a court ruled that the company was not doing enough to protect its workers.

Next week, the PRI CEO Fiona Reynolds will moderate a webinar on this topic with APG’s Responsible Investment head Anna Pot, CalPERS’ Director of Governance and Strategy Anne Simpson, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs and New York State Controller Thomas DiNapoli. Registration details can be found here.

Separately, a group of faith investors has written to fellow Amazon investors seeking support for their resolution calling for Amazon to commission an independent third-party report assessing its process for customer due diligence, to determine whether customers’ use of its surveillance and computer vision products or cloud-based services contributes to human rights violations.

And, in a further development, UK-based governance advisory firm PIRC has launched a new regular report for clients called Work that will focus solely on employment-related issues in ESG. “As a firm we've decided to dedicate resource specifically to the S in ESG and workplace issues in particular,” said PIRC’s Tom Powdrill on LinkedIn.