Amazon investors want an audit of the company’s workplace safety | Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Citing the recent scrutiny on its employees’ working conditions, a group of Amazon shareholders has filed a resolution asking the board of directors to commission an independent audit on workplace health and safety at the company. The resolution calls for the audit to be conducted with input from Amazon employees and experts in workplace safety and surveillance.
“As Amazon strives to be ‘the Earth’s Safest Place to Work,’ a review is needed of the practices that have made the company a leader in workplace injuries and a target for criticism and regulation,” the shareholders’ resolution reads. “With surveillance and productivity quotas linked to high injury rates, we urge Amazon to commission an independent audit of these practices.”
If Amazon doesn’t challenge the resolution, shareholders will vote on it at the company’s annual shareholder meeting in May.
Mary Beth Gallagher is director of engagement at Domini Impact Investments, which filed the resolution. She said Amazon needs to evaluate its business model, as well as its high turnover and injury rates. Gallagher pointed to the numerous safety issues and concerns raised about Amazon workplaces during the pandemic, and the deaths of six people at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois that was struck by a tornado on December 10th.
All the incidents “have raised serious questions and drawn scrutiny from legislators, regulators, and the public,” Gallagher said in a statement emailed to The Verge. She said Domini wants the audit to examine “the way in which employee productivity metrics and surveillance contribute to a less safe and stable work environment.”
Courtenay Brown, a worker at an Amazon Fresh warehouse in New Jersey and leader of workers’ group United for Respect, testified before Congress on December 7th about work conditions at her facility. She said she sorts up to 50,000 groceries for delivery daily, stepping in and out of temperatures as low as minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the warehouse is understaffed, there are few opportunities for breaks. And, she said, workers are monitored from the moment they pull into the parking lot.
“If we fall behind in any way during our 11 hour shift, we risk being disciplined,” Brown said before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. “We are pushed to our limit to the point where we can’t even take regular bathroom breaks. Often we have to run to and from the bathroom in under two minutes so we don’t get in trouble.”
The shareholders want the audit to evaluate the company’s productivity quotas, surveillance practices, and the effects of these practices on injury rates and turnover. Amazon did not reply to a request for comment from The Verge about the proposal.
Gallagher says her company’s hope is that a thorough evaluation “will produce corporate policy changes that make workplaces safer for associates and cement Amazon as the industry leader in health and safety it states it wants to be.”