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Jun 06, 2023

Dollar General shareholders call for worker safety audit

Two thirds of votes at company’s AGM back proposal

Shareholders in Dollar General have backed a proposal on the safety of the company’s employees.

According to an SEC filing, 67.7 percent of the votes cast at Dollar General’s AGM on May 31 were in favor of the resolution, which asks the company’s board to commission an independent third-party audit on the impact of the company’s policies and practices on the safety and well-being of workers. The resolution also calls for a report on the audit to be made available online. 

The resolution states that, at the company’s discretion, the proponents recommend that such an audit include:

  • An evaluation of management and business practices ‘that contribute to an unsafe or violent environment, including staffing capacity’
  • ‘Meaningful consultation with workers and customers to inform appropriate solutions’
  • ‘Recommendations for actions and regular reporting with progress on identified actions.’

The lead filer of the proposal is Domini US Impact Equity Fund. In its supporting statement it writes: ‘Since 2017, Dollar General has received $12.3 mn in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties for numerous willful, repeated and serious workplace safety violations.

‘OSHA designated Dollar General as a ‘severe violator’ in 2022, issuing citations for blocked safety exits and unsafe storage areas, inaccessible fire extinguishers, storage of boxes in front of electrical panels, exposure of workers to electrocution risks and failure to provide exit signs and required stair handrails.’

The proponent states that staffing levels seem to be insufficient to manage the workload, particularly given unpredictable shipments and influxes of inventory, which may result in blocked exits or increased fire risks.

‘While the company states it engages employees through town hall meetings, DG voice and ‘pulse’ surveys to understand employee sentiment, there is no disclosure on how this feedback informs actions to address workers’ concerns and priorities,’ the fund writes.

The board had urged shareholders to vote against the proposal. In the company’s 2023 proxy statement, it argues that the suggested audit and report are unnecessary.

‘At Dollar General, a foundational element in how we operate is exemplified in one of our four operating priorities: ‘Investing in our diverse teams through development, empowerment and inclusion’. This operational priority reflects our commitment to all matters that can affect our workplace experience, including safety and well-being,’ the board states.

‘Our management of the wide variety of matters within the employee safety and well-being umbrella is addressed in numerous ways, including without limitation: integration into our operational processes and procedures; the design of our stores, distribution centers and other facilities; our communication and training efforts; our auditing and oversight programs; our recognition and accountability programs; our benefits offerings; our employee engagement efforts; and many other aspects of our daily operations, including human capital management.’

The board outlines aspects of the company’s efforts to promote employee safety, including having on-site personnel and safety committees to oversee training, incident investigations and safety audits at its distribution centers.

A Dollar General spokesperson did not have a comment on the vote. 

Dollar General is not the only company facing scrutiny of its workers’ physical welfare. For example, a proposal on working conditions at Amazon’s warehouses received 35.4 percent of the votes cast at its recent AGM – a level of support widely seen as significant, although it is down from 44 percent at last year’s meeting.

The resolution asked that the company’s board commission an independent audit and report of the working conditions and treatment Amazon warehouse workers face, ‘including the impact of its policies, management, performance metrics and targets’.

Amazon’s board had recommended that shareholders vote against the resolution, stating that ‘safety is integral to everything we do – every day, in every country and across our business – and we continually enhance and improve our safety processes, programs and technology.’

The company says it has disclosed workforce incident rates and industry data. ‘Our goal is to be the safest workplace within the industries that we are typically designated: the general warehousing and storage and couriers and express-delivery services industries,’ the board writes.

‘While we still have work to do, from the beginning of 2019 to the end of 2022, even with the addition of nearly 900,000 new employees, we saw our worldwide recordable incident rate improve by almost 24 percent.’