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Protecting Amazon’s workforce includes the workers we don’t see

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Oxfam joined a group of sustainably responsible investors at Amazon's 2019 annual general meeting of shareholders in Seattle. The author is the third from the right. Photo: Paloma Muñoz

Oxfam joins Amazon shareholder meeting to #AsktheCEO Jeff Bezos to address human rights risks

It’s been about a year since I attended the last Amazon shareholder meeting in Seattle, and things are definitely different this time around. Today, May 27, Amazon is holding its first virtual shareholder meeting. We recognize this is necessary for the time; however, we have joined with other advocates to voice our concerns that a virtual Annual General Meeting can’t be the “new normal” once we get through the current crisis.

This year, Oxfam’s shareholder proposal made it on the ballot for an investor vote, giving us an opportunity to tell the company, its board, and fellow investors that it is time to act to protect workers throughout its supply chain.

Daily global headlines about worker concerns and worker walkouts during the COVID-19 crisis, and the collapse of Amazon’s HQ2 plan show the tangible impact of negative stakeholder views of Amazon’s record on labor and human rights. Just two weeks ago, APG and New York City Retirement Systems, which hold a $4 billion investment in Amazon, called on the company to demonstrate action and oversight with respect to workers’ rights—because as of now, Amazon’s actions have been gravely inadequate.

What are we asking Amazon to do?

We are calling on the company to conduct at least one human rights impact assessment (or HRIA) in a high-risk sector that the company identifies. What is an HRIA? It’s a process that evaluates the impacts corporate activities are having, have had, or might have on human rights. HRIAs can take various shapes and be led by different stakeholders, but they should share the goal of protecting human rights and improving accountability among stakeholders.

Although it is encouraging to see Amazon’s recent steps toward incremental improvements, outlined in the company’s Global Human Rights Principles and Supplier Code of Conduct, these plans lack the details essential to a robust HRIA, such as:

  • When will the assessment start?
  • How long will it take?
  • Which stakeholders will be engaged?
  • Who will conduct it and what methodology will they employ?
  • What actions will Amazon take to mitigate risks identified?
  • And most importantly—will any of this information be disclosed publicly?

Last October we gave Amazon guidance on how it could make key improvements to these new policies, and still our question to the company is as valid as ever: How will it reduce human rights risks in its supply chain? Amazon is making record profits during this crisis and says it will invest around $4 billion this quarter to support workers during COVID-19. Yet workers continue to voice their concerns over the lack of basic protections.

Here's what we asked Jeff Bezos

You are making a difference

During the last month, Oxfam has collected more than 52,000 signatures from consumers calling on the US supermarket sector, including Amazon-owned Whole Foods, to protect its workforce and reduce human rights risks. We also received over 200,000 signatures on our Behind the Barcodes petition calling companies to address human rights risks in their supply chains.

Consumers and shareholders are losing faith in companies that don’t take these issues seriously. Hopefully, we will get the right response from Amazon about how it will make lasting changes to support and listen to its workers.

Help protect supermarket workers by adding your voice to our petition.

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