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Jun 03, 2021

Amazon sees significant support for racial equity audit proposal

Forty-four percent of votes cast at AGM back request

Amazon has joined the ranks of companies whose shareholders this proxy season have given significant – though not majority – support for proposals regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

At Amazon’s AGM on May 26, 44 percent of the votes cast supported a request that the company’s board commission ‘a racial equity audit analyzing Amazon’s impacts on civil rights, equity, diversity and inclusion, and the impacts of those issues on Amazon’s business. The audit may, in the board’s discretion, be conducted by an independent third party with input from civil rights organizations, employees, communities in which Amazon operates and other stakeholders. A report on the audit… should be publicly disclosed on Amazon’s website.’

New York State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and the New York State Common Retirement Fund filed the proposal. DiNapoli’s office describes the vote as ‘an immense success for a first-time proposal.’ It adds: ‘If CEO Jeff Bezos’ shares (70,616,270 shares, 14 percent) were to be removed from those voting ‘against’ it, the proposal received majority support.’

DiNapoli says in a statement: ‘Shareholders sent a loud message to Amazon that they want the company to do more to address racial [DEI]. It's time for Amazon to listen to its investors and take steps to address these issues. Amazon needs to ensure it is effectively addressing inequality and protecting the company’s long-term success.

‘The call for racial equity is not going away and neither are Amazon's shareholders. We will continue to press Amazon to take an independent look at how it is addressing racial justice and equity, just as other major corporations have done.’

Amazon’s board opposed the proposal. It writes in the company’s proxy statement: ‘We take very seriously our commitment to respect and value people from all backgrounds, including gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status and disability. [DEI] are cornerstones of our continued success and critical components of our culture.

‘Our ability to innovate on behalf of our customers relies on the perspectives and knowledge of people from all backgrounds. We serve diverse customers, operate in diverse communities and rely on a diverse workforce… We have initiated numerous programs to assess and address racial justice considerations across key aspects of our operations that we believe fully address the objectives of this proposal.’

A request for comment from Amazon was not returned immediately.

Several other companies have received similar proposals asking them to conduct racial equity audits or produce reports assessing their DEI efforts. Investors are looking at corporate responses to the growing pressure for progress on DEI matters, particularly following last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests.

The CtW Investment Group and the Service Employees International Union have between them filed proposals at eight major financial institutions this proxy season. For example, a CtW Investment Group proposal asking JPMorgan Chase to conduct a racial equity audit was backed by 39.8 percent of votes cast at the company’s AGM.

Similarly, 94 percent of votes cast at IBM’s AGM backed a proposal – which was also supported by the board – seeking a report on the company’s DEI efforts.


Ben Maiden

Ben Maiden is the editor-at-large of Governance Intelligence, an IR Media publication, having joined the company in December 2016. He is based in New York. Ben was previously managing editor of Compliance Reporter, covering regulatory and compliance...