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Thomas DiNapoli: I’m asking Amazon shareholders to support a proposal on civil rights, diversity and inclusion

The tech giant must fulfil its promises on racial equity, argues the New York State Comptroller

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America is grappling with a long overdue reckoning with racial injustice. Following George Floyd’s murder, and the public outcry over the killings of other Black men and women, many in corporate America stepped up and made commitments to address diversity, equity and inclusion. 

And rightfully so. Companies face increased risks when their corporate policies, practices, products or services are – or are perceived to be – discriminatory, racist, or increasing inequities. Investors have been asking their portfolio companies: how are you living up to those commitments? Are they effective in addressing issues related to racial equity? 

At Amazon’s Annual Meeting on May 26, shareholders will decide whether Amazon should answer those questions.

As trustee of New York State’s pension fund, I believe Amazon has not lived up to its commitments, and must do more. That’s why I am asking Amazon shareholders to support a proposal that asks the company to conduct an independent civil rights, equity, diversity and inclusion audit.

As trustee of New York State’s pension fund, I believe Amazon has not lived up to its commitments, and must do more

Amazon has said it stands alongside those fighting systemic racism, yet we continue to see reports of workers facing racial discrimination, accusations of discriminatory wages, and controversies around the sale of products that promote hatred. Just recently, we have seen allegations of racial bias in Amazon’s hiring practices and a high profile labor vote at a facility in majority-Black Bessemer, Alabama, in which Amazon is accused by a union of engaging in anti-union organising practices.

Amazon claims it is already addressing these issues, pointing to a list of policies and actions, but the company has not reported to investors and stakeholders on the effectiveness – or the process for completing – its ongoing policy review. Amazon’s internal reviews have the potential to reinforce current structural impediments and biases, which is why it is necessary to carry out an independent assessment led by auditors who are experienced in rooting out biases and discrimination.

If you want to see the effectiveness of Amazon’s commitments to racial equity, look no further than its board of directors. Amazon’s board of directors lacks racial diversity and only one of its 10 director nominees is from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. I encourage Amazon shareholders to vote against the board’s nominating committee members, who are responsible for recruiting and recommending directors. 

Now is the time for Amazon to step up and take an honest look at how it is addressing racial justice and equity, just as other major corporations like Facebook, Starbucks, BlackRock and Morgan Stanley have done or committed to do. Amazon can only benefit by studying these issues, developing a plan to address them, mitigating the associated risks and ensuring that its policies and actions truly align with its words.

In the ethos of Mr. Bezos, Amazon should strive to be the “Earth’s Most Equal Company” and ensure an equitable and nondiscriminatory experience for all of its employees, customers and stakeholders.