Oxfam America called on Amazon to address human rights abuses and labor rights violations in its supply chain today. In a resolution at the virtual Amazon shareholders meeting, Oxfam specifically called on Amazon to conduct at least one human rights impact assessment in a high-risk sector where the potential for human rights abuses have been identified. The organization has published evidence of human and labor rights abuse in sectors such as seafood, tea, oranges, and sweet potato.
“Oxfam has uncovered evidence of human rights abuses in the Amazon-owned Whole Foods supply chain around the world, from Thailand to North Carolina. We’ve heard stories of terrible working conditions, poor wages, gender discrimination, and intimidation,” said Sarah Zoen, a senior advisor with Oxfam’s private sector department, who presented the proposal at the shareholders meeting. “Now is the time for Amazon to step up and conduct a human rights impact assessment in a high-risk sector in collaboration with affected workers and communities.”
Human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) seek to identify the root causes of human rights abuses linked to a business and recommendations on how to address them. HRIAs can take various shapes and be led by different stakeholders but should share the ultimate goal of protecting human rights and improving accountability among stakeholders.
Oxfam believes the use of human rights impact assessments will enable Amazon to identify existing and potential adverse impacts on communities or workers. Once those risks are identified, the company can protect itself from costly reputational and operational risks lurking in its own operations and across the activities in its supply chain.
“Amazon and the public are acutely aware of the negative human rights impacts that exist in its supply chain – workers’ concerns are a daily news headline,” continued Zoen. “Amazon is making record profits and yet workers continue to raise concerns about their health, safety, and wellbeing. In the face of a global pandemic where workers are on the frontline, our proposal is more relevant than ever.”
Amazon’s recent steps to incrementally improve its approach to address human rights impacts, outlined in the Global Human Rights Principles and Proxy Statement, but there’s a lack of detail that is essential to a robust HRIA plan, a such as when it will start, how long it will take, which stakeholders will be engaged, who will conduct it and what methodology they will employ, what actions Amazon will take to mitigate risks identified, and most importantly—will any of this information be disclosed?
In the last month, Oxfam has collected more than 50,000 signatures from consumers calling on the US supermarket sector, including Amazon-owned Whole Foods, to protect its workforce and reduce human rights risks. Consumers and shareholders are losing faith in companies that don’t take these issues seriously.
“While we have seen Amazon/Whole Foods, take small but important steps to acknowledge that human rights are relevant to core business practice, the company now needs to show responsibility, transparency, and accountability,” concluded Zoen. “Undertaking a human rights impact assessment would demonstrate they are walking the talk.”