Pædagogernes Pension (PBU) has excluded Amazon from its investments after several years of pressuring the e-commerce giant to respect worker rights, including the right to organise. 

The €11 billion Danish pension fund for early childhood teachers announced on Thursday that it was selling its shares – worth DKr300 million ($43.9million; €40.3 million) – and excluding Amazon. 

According to a statement issued by PBU, the decision follows more than five years of dialogue and sustained pressure to get Amazon to recognise the right of employees to join a union and negotiate wages and working conditions collectively.  

“Patience with the company has now run out,” it stated. 

Sune Schackenfeldt, CEO of PBU, said: “We are experiencing a company that practices anti-union business and opposes the will of the employees. The door to Amazon has been hermetically closed, and it has not been possible to enter into a dialogue about the problematic behaviour they have.” 

He added, however: “If Amazon’s management opens the door, we would like to invest in the company again.” 

PBU has taken action against other companies over labour rights – it excluded Walmart in 2018 and Ryanair in 2017.

Speaking to Responsible Investor, Martin Buttle, CCLA’s better work lead, agreed that Amazon needs to make “significant improvements” to its approach to respecting worker rights and labour standards more broadly. The charity fund manager recently co-filed a proposal calling on Amazon to address elements of workers’ rights.

However, the UK investor does not believe that now is the time to divest. “It is too big to ignore, and we have to do everything we can to support positive change at the company rather than divest and pretend that it does not exist,” Buttle said said. “While driving change at the company is hard, due to their scale small changes can make a big difference.”

UNI Global Union general secretary Christy Hoffman took a tougher line. “We hear new horror stories about Amazon’s conditions and treatment of workers on a daily basis,” she said. “It is encouraging that a growing number of investors are pushing the company.

“We believe PBU is not the only fund whose patience is wearing thin with ongoing labour rights abuses, and it is important that these investors continue to escalate engagement and publicly communicate their follow through.”

Shareholder proposals

When it comes to workers’ rights, Amazon is no stranger to investor action. 

In December, SHARE filed a proposal with US-based SOC Investment Group, the filing for which CCLA, alongside Canada’s British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCi) acted as co-filers. 

The group called on Amazon 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”.

Before that, in June, activist investor Tulipshare put forward a proposal on warehouse working conditions, following reports of high injury and employee turnover rates.  

According to the organisation, the resolution gained 44 percent of shareholders votes in favour, and was backed by UK asset managers Schroders and Legal & General Investment Management.   

Antoine Argouges, CEO and founder of Tulipshare, told RI: “PBU will not likely be the last group to divest and exclude Amazon from their investments, and confirms the current negative sentiment among shareholders. However, we believe that engagement is the future of ESG investing and it is our responsibility as shareholders to hold companies like Amazon accountable.”

He added that Tulipshare will take its 2022 proposal to Amazon again this year. “We are calling for all investors, both retail and institutional – no matter how big or small – to back us so we can prioritise the safety of Amazon warehouse workers. You cannot be an Amazon shareholder and sit on the sidelines.”

A spokesperson for Amazon pointed to a webpage that stated: “Safety is integral to everything that we do at Amazon – every day, in every operation, across every country.”

According to the site, the firm invested $300 million in safety projects in 2021 and “reached 8,000 workplace health and safety professionals at the end of 2021”.