Amazon, Meta and Alphabet face racial justice pressure from shareholders

Exactly two years after George Floyd was killed by police, sparking widespread protests and prompting companies to declare their commitments to racial justice, investors in a handful of Big Tech companies will vote on a series of shareholder proposals on Wednesday. that mention or are related to racial justice.

Shareholders Urge Amazon.com Inc. AMZN,
-2.31%
and Meta Platforms Inc. FB,
+0.50%
conduct racial equity audits; explore the potential risks of the metaverse with respect to discrimination and civil rights violations; reviewer of allegation that Facebook discriminates against employees deemed “non-diverse”; and more. Investors in Alphabet Inc. GOOG,
+1.59%
GOOGL,
+1.90%
will also vote on similar resolutions related to racial justice next week.

The investor push comes as the nation continues to grapple with racism that recently spilled over into a mass shooting of mostly black people in Buffalo, NY, which authorities are investigating as a hate crime. The suspect broadcast the attack live and links to the video were allowed to proliferate on platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

Read more : Buffalo Shot: Social Platforms Remove Violent Videos Faster, But Not Much

“A lot of companies are saying all the right things,” said Laura Campos, director of corporate accountability and policy at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, who submitted a resolution for a racial equity audit at Alphabet. “Investors increasingly want to see evidence that they actually mean this.”

The numbers show that’s true: Shareholder resolutions calling for civil rights and racial equity audits hit a record 34 this proxy season, according to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an organization of defense of shareholders. The ICCR said its more than 300 institutional investor member organizations have filed a record of 485 resolutions, 105 of which relate to racial justice, which is also a record.

In March, shareholders of another tech giant, Apple Inc. AAPL,
+3.08%,
approved a proposed civil rights audit to examine the company’s impact on its customers, employees and society. Although Apple hasn’t said anything publicly about the vote and hasn’t returned CNET’s request for comment, racial justice organization Color of Change said its representatives have returned with Apple about how the company could conduct a civil rights audit.

See : Companies said ‘competent black lives’ last year, and now on their demand to prove it

Alphabet’s proposal says that, among other things, an audit of the company would help address the effects of Google Search, its algorithms, artificial intelligence technology and other products on perpetuating racism, including research that showed YouTube “played a key role in exposing young people to white supremacist ideology and anti-Muslim propaganda.” The proposal also notes that five US senators last year called for an audit “to make the company and its products safer for black people.”

Referring to the recent mass shooting in Buffalo perpetrated by an alleged white supremacist, Campos said, “When the spread of harmful conspiracy theories contributes to murderous racist attacks against innocent people, it is absolutely necessary for technology companies to invest in independent racial equity audits. to identify areas requiring improvement.

The proposal also mentions that Alphabet has been accused of retaliating against employees who raised issues of discrimination, and cites information claimed when employees reported racism, “they were told to ‘assume a good intention”, to seek advice or to take time off”.

In its argument against the proposal, Alphabet says in its proxy that its board of directors “believe that our current commitments, actions, and transparent disclosures outlining our efforts to strengthen racial equity” are sufficient.

Amazon was also facing a resolution for a racial equity audit, but the New York State Common Retirement Fund withdrew its proposal to Amazon last month after the company announced in its proxy that it was conducting an audit. It will be led by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the law firm where she is now a partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Meanwhile, Meta faces a proposal, which includes racial justice concerns, for more information on the effects of his much-vaunted metaverse, or immersive virtual world. In its resolution, Arjuna Capital said it was seeking a third-party audit because “the same issues Facebook faces — discrimination, human and civil rights abuses, incitement to violence, and privacy violations — may be exacerbated in the metaverse”.

Highlighting what she says is the need to investigate potential risks, Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna, told CNET, “Imagine a metaverse where you yell nasty comments at someone.”

In its recommendation against the proposal, Meta said it was already working with experts and others to understand the potential risks of the metaverse technology it is still building.

Meta-investors will also vote on a proposed civil rights and non-discrimination audit that alleges Facebook’s parent company’s anti-racism policies are themselves racist and discriminatory against “deemed non-diverse” employees. ” ”. The proposal, which suggests that Meta’s anti-racism and diversity policies meaning pay and authority in the company are therefore not merit-based, was submitted by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

In his argument against the proposal, Meta cited a civil rights audit he underwent from 2018 to 2020 after pressure from civil rights organizations concerned about the effects of Facebook’s policies and practices on people of color. . The company said it “recognizes[s] the importance of civil rights and non-discrimination.

Amazon and Meta hold their annual general meetings on Wednesday, while Alphabet’s meeting is June 1.

Other corporate shareholder resolutions that have a racial justice component include:

  • The three companies face proposals asking for reports on their use of concealment clauses in employment contracts and are asked to allow employees and former employees to speak about cases of workplace harassment, discrimination and abuse. works.

  • Amazon shareholders will vote on a proposal that calls for a report on how its practices allow workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, as the company faces allegations of union busting in the midst of a growing unionization movement. There are also two proposals that call for working conditions: one calling for a third-party audit of working conditions in warehouses, and another calling for a review to determine whether the company’s health and safety practices cause racial and gender proteins in work injuries in its warehouses. According to Amazon’s 2019 and 2020 workforce data, the majority of its lowest-level workers, such as warehouse workers, were black and Latinx.

  • Amazon shareholders will again vote on a resolution calling for an independent review of possible civil rights damages from Rekognition, the company’s facial recognition technology.

Lie: Union push at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks could be ‘the most important moment in the American labor movement’ in decades

More generally, tech companies face the most shareholder resolutions, 56, this proxy season, according to the ICCR. The organization also said that last year its institutional investor member organizations won majority votes for 23 proposals, which was a record.

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