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Amazon Working Conditions Subject of Shareholder Proposal

Amazon is recommending shareholders vote against a proposal that would require it to release information about human rights risks. Amazon is holding its annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday in Seattle.

Among the four shareholder proposals is one in which Amazon is urged to publish a report on its process for “comprehensively identifying and analyzing potential and actual human rights risks of Amazon’s entire operations and supply chain.” Authors of the proposal cited reports about Amazon’s working conditions, writing that Amazon’s business model exposes the company to significant human rights risks.

Amazon’s focus on ever increasing targets and efficiency in its fulfillment centers has reportedly caused significant medical problems for its employees including heat stroke and heat exhaustion. In Germany, Amazon hired a contractor to manage temporary employment agency staff. The contractor allegedly reneged on promised wages, kept migrant employees under surveillance and in cramped and unsuitable accommodation and supervised employees using guards whose uniforms had neo-Nazi connotations.

The shareholders also said a recent report alleged that Amazon uses suppliers that don’t pay a local living wage and that Amazon cannot trace the source of many component materials used in products like its Kindle.

Amazon responded to the proposal by saying it was strongly committed to protecting human rights in its operations and supply chain.

We also partner closely with our suppliers to drive continuous improvement in worker conditions. We train our suppliers, Amazon employees who manage our manufacturing supply chain, and operations leadership on the standards and conduct required by our Supplier Code of Conduct.

Amazon said it engaged with all of its suppliers at least once a year to ensure they uphold all of its standards and expectations as detailed in its Supplier Code of Conduct and conducts formal benchmarking with industry experts to review Amazon’s criteria against globally-recognized international standards, including the Ruggie Principles, and other businesses in the retail and electronics industries.

We are committed to providing a safe and fair working environment to all of our employees globally. Any complaints about the working conditions at Amazon or any alleged violation of law are thoroughly investigated by the Company. In light of our engagement and commitment to actions on these issues, we believe that the report requested under the proposal is not necessary.

At its 2012 shareholder meeting, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos addressed working conditions after reports surfaced that workers were becoming ill from working in temperatures above 100 degrees at a Pennsylvania warehouse. The Seattle Timessaid the CEO showed attendees a photograph of a large air conditioner being installed at a warehouse.

You can read the full proxy statement on the Amazon investor relations website.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.