ESG resolution round-up: Investors file worker rights audit proposal to Amazon

SOC Investment has teamed up with SHARE, CCLA and British Columbia Investment Management Corporation to file a proposal to the online giant over its commitment to freedom of association.

Big institutional investors filed a proposal to Amazon Thursday calling on the online giant to commission an independent assessment into how faithful it is to its commitment to the rights of workers to unionise.   

Canadian responsible investment body SHARE and US-based SOC Investment Group are behind the new shareholder resolution, with UK fund manager CCLA and Canada’s British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCi) acting as co-filers. 

Amazon is called on to commission “an independent, third-party assessment” into its “adherence to workers’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights as outlined in Amazon’s Global Human Rights Principles, which explicitly references the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation and the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work”.  

The assessment, which the filers have asked be publicly disclosed by the end of November 2023, should also address “management non-interference when employees exercise their right to form or join a trade union as well as steps to remedy any practices inconsistent with Amazon’s stated commitments”. 

In May, a proposal filed by SHARE asking Amazon for greater disclosure on its approach to labour rights and freedom of association drew support of close to 40 percent. The proposal was one of more than 12 filed by shareholders at Amazon for the 2022 proxy season, including several on the treatment of workers. 

SOC Investments was one of the pioneers of the successful racial justice audit proposals that emerged in the 2021 proxy season following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and growing awareness of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Those proposals prompted a flurry of audit commitments, including from Amazon, and this year racial justice audit proposals achieved majority support at eight companies. 

In this week’s worker rights audit proposal, the filers highlighted that Amazon has faced “overwhelmingly negative media coverage in the US and internationally” over its alleged interference and anti-unionisation tactics.  

They also noted “multiple occasions” where US regulators and courts have “ruled that Amazon violated labour laws and ordered remedies”, including recently by the National Labor Relations Board.  

A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment on the proposal but directed Responsible Investor to its response to SHARE’s 2022 resolution. “Everywhere we operate, we comply with applicable local laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining and respect internationally recognised human rights,” the response stated.  

They also pointed to a report published by Amazon in March on its policies and practices around freedom of association and collective bargaining.  

But the investors stated in the latest proposal that this disclosure, while referencing the ILO conventions, “fails to explain whether and how Amazon’s human rights policies and practices align with these international standards or its own commitments”. 

Investors divided on tax transparency proposals  

Last week, a resolution at Cisco calling on the US tech firm to issue a “tax transparency report” using the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) tax standard achieved support of 27 percent.  

That tally was six percentage points higher than that achieved by a similar proposal that went to the vote at Amazon in May. The proposal at Cisco was led by Danish fund AkademikerPension. Another at Microsoft, led by Greater Manchester Pension Fund, went to the vote on Tuesday. The result has not yet been filed at the SEC.  

Big investors were divided on the merits of the proposals. Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund, Norges Bank Investment Management, and Californian public pension fund CalPERS were among those supporting the proposals, along with Dutch giant PGGM and the Office of the New York City Comptroller, which oversees the city’s five pension pots. 

But CalPERS’ sister fund CalSTRS opposed the proposal at both Cisco and Microsoft and Dutch investor APG supported the one at the former but not the latter.  

Tax transparency proposals have also been filed this year at oil majors Chevron, Exxon and ConocoPhillips by Oxfam America with the support of European investors.