Amazon, Meta, Alphabet face racial justice pressures from shareholders

know about Amazon, Meta, Alphabet face racial justice pressures from shareholders

Exactly two years after George Floyd was killed by police, sparking widespread protests and prompting companies to declare their commitment to racial justice, investors in a pair of big tech companies will vote Wednesday on a series of proposals. of shareholders who specifically mention racial justice or are tied to it.

Shareholders urge Amazon.com Inc. AMZN,
-2.52%
and Meta Platforms Inc. FB,
-4.06%
conduct racial equity audits; explore the potential risks of the metaverse regarding discrimination and civil rights violations; examine a claim that Facebook is discriminating against employees deemed “not diverse”; and more. Investors in Alphabet Inc. GOOG,
-2.70%
GOOGLE,
-2.62%
it 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 manifested itself most recently in a mass shooting of mostly black people in Buffalo, New York, that authorities are investigating as a hate crime. The suspect broadcast the attack live and links to the video were allowed to proliferate on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Read more: Buffalo shooting: Social platforms are quicker to take down violent videos, but not by much

“A lot of companies are saying all the right things,” said Laura Campos, director of corporate responsibility and policy at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which filed a resolution for a racial equity audit at Alphabet. “Investors increasingly want to see evidence that they are really backing that.”

The numbers show that to be true: Shareholder resolutions calling for civil rights and racial equity audits reached a record number, 34, this season of power, according to the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a shareholder advocacy organization. ICCR said its more than 300 institutional investor member organizations submitted a record 485 resolutions, 105 of which are related to racial justice, which is also a record.

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In March, shareholders of another tech giant, Apple Inc. AAPL,
-3.86%,
approved a proposed civil rights audit to examine the company’s impact on its customers, employees, and society. While Apple hasn’t publicly said anything about that vote and hasn’t returned MarketWatch’s request for comment, racial justice organization Color of Change says its representatives have been talking to Apple about how the company could conduct a civil rights audit. .

Watch: Businesses declared ‘Black Lives Matter’ last year, and now they’re being asked to prove it

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

Referring to the recent mass shooting in Buffalo carried out by an alleged white supremacist, Campos said: “When the spread of harmful conspiracy theories contributes to deadly racist attacks on innocent people, it is absolutely necessary that technology companies invest in independent audits of racial equity. to identify areas that need improvement.

The proposal also mentions that Alphabet has been accused of retaliating against employees who raised discrimination issues, citing news reports that when employees reported racism, they “were told to ‘assume good intentions,’ seek advice or leave.” “.

In its argument against the proposal, Alphabet says on its behalf that its board “believes that our current transparent commitments, actions and disclosures outlining our efforts to build racial equity” are sufficient.

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

Meanwhile, Meta faces a proposal, including racial justice concerns, to find out more about the effects of its much-touted metaverse, or immersive virtual world. In its resolution, Arjuna Capital said it is seeking a third-party audit because “the same issues Facebook faces — discrimination, human and civil rights violations, incitement to violence, and privacy violations — may be on the rise in the metaverse.”

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

In its recommendation against the proposal, Meta said it is 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 non-discrimination and civil rights audit proposal that alleges Facebook’s parent company’s anti-racist policies are themselves racist and discriminatory against employees “deemed non-diverse.” The proposal, which suggests that Meta’s diversity and anti-racism policies mean pay and authority at the company are not based on merit, was put forward by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

In its argument against the proposal, Meta cited a civil rights audit it 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”.

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

Other shareholder resolutions in companies that have a racial justice component include:

  • All three companies are facing proposals requiring reporting on the use of hiding clauses in employment contracts, and urging them to allow current and former employees to speak out about workplace harassment, discrimination and abuse.

  • Amazon shareholders will vote on a proposal calling for a report on how its practices protect workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, as the company faces accusations of union busting amid a growing union movement. There are also two proposals addressing working conditions: one calling for a third-party audit of warehouse working conditions and another calling for an examination of whether the company’s health and safety practices lead to racial and gender disparities in workplace injuries in their warehouses. According to Amazon workforce data from 2019 and 2020, the majority of its lower-level workers, such as warehouse workers, were Black and Latino.

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

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

More broadly, tech companies are facing the highest number of shareholder resolutions, 56, this representation season, according to ICCR. The organization also said that last year, its institutional investor member organizations won majority votes for 23 proposals, which was a record.

More: Uber to conduct civil rights audit in shareholder engagement