In focus

Amazon workers’ rights: how we will vote at 2022 AGM

Global retailer giant Amazon has come under intense scrutiny for the way it treats its staff and the conditions under which they work. Schroders will use its 2022 voting rights as part of its efforts to drive change at the company by supporting three shareholders’ resolutions. These resolutions are filed by investors in the business, rather than by management.

Schroders is also considering other agenda items at this meeting and is likely to be voting against the board’s recommendations for other proposals in addition to those detailed above.

What shareholder proposals will Schroders be supporting at Amazon’s 2022 AGM?

Out of a total 18 shareholder resolutions, three relate to workers’ rights.

“These are a request for a report on worker health and safety differences; a request for additional reporting on freedom of association and a request for a report on warehouse working conditions,” said Tim Goodman, Schroders’ Head of Corporate Governance.

“We believe it is important to support these proposals, which align with our own engagement with the company, call for greater disclosure and promote stronger workers’ rights.”

Workers’ rights is one of six priority themes in Schroders’ engagement blueprint, which sets out our approach to active management. It comes under the umbrella heading of “human capital management” (HCM). This has been identified as a priority at Amazon because developing and retaining people within the company is vital if it is to maintain and grow its competitive advantage.

Tim Goodman said: “Our engagement with Amazon also seeks to cover areas such as improving the wages paid to staff and the benefits that they are offered; worker engagement and representation within Amazon; the health and wellbeing of workers; and the working conditions within Amazon’s warehouses.”

Schroders has engaged with Amazon on these issues since 2015.

Kimberley Lewis, Head of Active Ownership, said: “Since then we have had 23 meetings with Amazon and many of these engagements have focused on worker issues, specifically health and safety and worker voice.” This describes increasing the opportunities for staff members to raise their concerns with Amazon.

Katie Frame, Active Ownership Manager ESG, said: “In 2022, through further engagements with Amazon, we have sought to understand how the company extends its safety provisions to contractors (for example, delivery drivers). Also, why its safety performance is still below its sector peers, and what it is doing to address this.”

Kimberley Lewis said: “We have also sought to understand why the company is concerned about its US workers becoming unionised and why its relations with the unions still appear fraught. We have also pushed Amazon to disclose its worker turnover figures.“

Schroders’ engagement on workers’ rights at other companies

Kimberley Lewis said: “At Schroders we approach active ownership differently. We believe it is important to set clear expectations for companies around sustainable business practices and, as a result, we are able to influence corporate behaviour through constructive and committed engagement with the companies and assets we invest in.”

Simone Geldenhuys, Global Sector Specialist, Multi Regional Equity, said: “Sustainable practices are an important part of business longevity and competitive advantage, so when considering our investment holdings, we see active ownership as a key mechanism to communicate our views and hold management teams accountable. With Amazon, for example, logistics is a differentiating capability of the business. This means protecting their workers' human rights is critical in building robust supply chains. Also, receiving appropriate disclosures from Amazon on ensuring worker safety allows us to assess operational and financial risks.

“Voting is just one of the facets we use for active ownership; together with engagement, we have found our approach to active ownership to be relatively effective in ensuring a two-way dialogue with companies and pushing for more corporate accountability. Voting specifically can be an effective way of signalling lack of progress to a company.

“With Amazon, we feel our votes are pointing to areas which require progress given the materiality of these issues and hopefully help focus the management's priorities in following sustainable practice. Through active ownership, we aim to protect and enhance the value of our clients' investments.”

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