Amazon shareholder meeting preview: Tech giant to face protests and proposals at annual event

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (GeekWire File Photo)

Amazon shareholders will congregate in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood Wednesday morning for the tech giant’s annual meeting, listening to CEO Jeff Bezos and other executives provide updates on the company’s business and strategy.

The official business of the meeting is often low-key. Bezos echoes many of the themes he addresses in his widely read annual letter to shareholders. But the event is also a magnet for a wide variety of issues, to be addressed in shareholder proposals inside the meeting and protesters outside.

Issues to be raised by protesters and advocacy groups include climate change, working conditions for Amazon Air pilots, employee pay, Amazon’s fight against the Seattle head tax, and Bezos’ dual roles of CEO and chairman.

The meeting comes after another big year for Amazon’s business, as the company reported an increase of 31 percent in 2017 net sales, to nearly $178 billion, with annual profits of $3 billion, fueled by its Amazon Web Services cloud computing division. In the past year, Amazon also completed its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods Market, launched its Amazon Go automated retail store and acquired smart doorbell maker Ring for a reported $1 billion, reflecting its growing ambitions in smart home technology.

Amazon’s Community Banana Stand across the street from protesters outside its 2017 shareholders meeting. (GeekWire File Photo)

Two shareholder proposals are up for consideration. One calls for establishing an independent board chair by separating the positions of CEO and chairman, both currently held by Bezos. Another pushes to amend voting practices on shareholder proposals to no longer count abstentions as votes against the proposals.

The board recommended that shareholders vote against both proposals.

Though the proxy statement, issued in April, originally listed three shareholder proposals to be voted on, one proposal was later withdrawn. That proposal moved to enact the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” to diversify the pool of candidates considered for election to the board. The board initially recommended shareholders vote against the proposal. After pushback from the public, the company agreed to adopt the policy, but said it was merely formalizing a practice that it already followed.

According to the proxy statement, Amazon also rejected certain proposals related to “environmental sustainability, social, or governance issues” that required that the company “prepare a report, adopt a policy, or take some other narrowly or vaguely defined action.”

350 Seattle, an organization dedicated to fighting climate change, said in a Facebook post on Monday that Amazon rejected a proposal to “report on the feasibility of net-zero emissions by 2030.” Even if 350 Seattle’s proposal will not be voted on at the shareholder meeting, the advocacy group plans to make its voice heard at a protest outside the event, alongside activist shareholder and consumer group SumOfUs.

Amazon, deliver a fossil-free future

Alexa, what is’s carbon footprint?The company won’t say… but these Plant for the Planet kids, and all of us, need to know! Sign the letter! We’re calling on Bezos to take ownership of the pollution from Amazon’s operations. We researched Amazon’s climate impact…and it wasn’t pretty: Amazon’s shipping in 2017 alone spewed at least 19.1 million metric tons of carbon. How can a forward-thinking company continue to ignore its massive carbon footprint? Read more:—Plus, Bezos rejected a shareholder proposal to report on the feasibility of net-zero emissions by 2030.Join us outside the Amazon Shareholder Meeting this Wednesday: —What is a customer-centric company doing harming our health and livable climate? Amazon must lead on the transition to electric delivery! Come on, Amazon, you can deliver a fossil free future! #FossilFreePrime#NoCustomersOnADeadPlanet

Posted by 350 Seattle on Monday, May 28, 2018

Amazon said in its proxy statement that it focuses on “initiatives and activities that can have the greatest impact given the specific nature of our operations, such as our wind and solar farms to generate electricity and our frustration-free packaging initiatives, but we also have innumerable large and small initiatives underway at any point in time, as we seek to constantly invent across the company. For these reasons, we generally oppose proposals requesting specific reports, policies, or initiatives for not being the most efficient use of our time and resources or not reflecting the unique and evolving nature of our operations.”

In advance of the meeting, Amazon today announced a new solar installation on the rooftop of its North Las Vegas fulfillment center, its 17th in the country in the past 14 months.

Other groups plan to make their presence known, too. Amazon Air cargo pilots, who were at the shareholder meeting last year, will be present again in protest of what they describe as short staffing and operational issues. The pilots, who fly for Amazon through contracts with Atlas Air, Inc. and ABX Air Inc., say that a lack of staff and difficult working conditions could mean more delays, fewer available products and higher shipping fees for the customer.

Amazon declined to provide further comment on the issues raised by the pilots and other groups in advance of the event.

Check back for coverage of the annual meeting Wednesday morning on GeekWire.

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