Amazon faces new pressure over its treatment of staff with the company’s shareholders set to vote on plans to put warehouse workers on its board.
The online retail giant has agreed to let shareholders decide on a proposal from Oxfam that would force it to consider hourly workers when assigning new seats on its board of directors.
The measure is being pushed by the charity as Amazon workers at a warehouse in Alabama are separately voting to form a union, in what would be a first for the company in the US.
The Oxfam proposal, which has won support from state pension committees’ and US worker groups, would require Amazon to include hourly associates, such as those who work in its warehouses, on its shortlists for new board nominees.
Amazon had appealed to the US Securities and Exchange Commission seeking to block the proposal on the grounds that a similar measure had been proposed by another shareholder. However, Amazon recently told the regulator it will allow the vote at its annual meeting in the spring after the other shareholder withdrew the proposal.
Oxfam has repeatedly taken aim at Amazon by pushing through shareholder votes on matters such as human rights, although the organisation has never secured support from a majority of shareholders.
Its proposal argues that “women and racial minorities, which constitute a large percentage of Amazon’s hourly associates, are… comparatively underrepresented at the board level, which remains predominantly male and white”. Pension funds from two states, Vermont and Rhode Island, are endorsing the measure, which has also won support from the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Elizabeth Warren, a prominent US senator, has pushed for companies to put workers on their boards.
Amazon has more than one million employees, the majority of which work in its giant logistics operation in roles such as warehouse pickers and delivery drivers. Its treatment of staff has come under growing scrutiny during the pandemic as several sites are hit by coronavirus outbreaks, although it says a smaller proportion of workers have tested positive than the wider population after accounting for age and location.
Around 6,000 workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama are currently voting on whether to unionise, the first time a whole site in the US has had a say on joining a union. On Sunday, Joe Biden warned companies against interfering in unionisation efforts, saying: “It’s not up to an employer to decide that," although he did not mention Amazon by name.
Last year an Oxfam proposal for Amazon to report on human rights violations in its supply chain was defeated by a ratio of more than two-to-one, although the charity said it had the support of around 40pc of independent votes. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has voting power over around 15pc of Amazon shares.
Amazon, which typically unveils shareholder proposals in March or April and holds its annual meeting in May, did not comment.