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Commentary

Push for Workers’ Rights Needed Beyond the AGM

Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union, says Amazon shareholders should support freedom of association and collective bargaining across their portfolios.

Amazon investors voted on a record 18 shareholder resolutions in its recent annual general meeting. But if shareholders really want to make Amazon a sustainable, responsible company, more is needed than casting votes – particularly on workers’ rights. 

The strong showing of proposals relating to trade unions and occupational health and safety shows a significant shift where the ‘S’ in ESG is no longer an afterthought but a primary concern.   

Roughly 35% of total investors and over 42% of independent investors voted in favour of a resolution, filed by SHARE, that calls for a third-party assessment of how Amazon’s responses to union organising align its Global Human Rights Principles. The company professes a commitment to freedom of association and collective bargaining. 

Similarly, nearly 43% of independent investors supported an annual report on warehouse working conditions by an independent third party.   

These resolutions got a broader consensus among investors than most other resolutions on the ballot. As representatives of Amazon workers worldwide, UNI Global Union commends the shareholders who stood in support of workers’ rights and conveyed their messages to Amazon’s board.  

Leading up to the AGM, notable investors such as Norges Bank Investment Management, Schroders, Italy’s largest pension fund, Cometa, and a group of 12 Danish pension funds publicly backed these proposals. They made clear that Amazon’s board should heed improve workers’ conditions, end union busting and ensure safe work.  

But we know that to get change, more investors must wield their influence and deepen their engagement to advance these vital goals. 

Championing workers’ rights 

It is a well-known fact that Amazon refuses to genuinely engage with labour unions on a global scale, with recurring and mass deployment of anti-union tactics time and time again. Recently, Amazon refused to voluntarily recognise the General Union of Workers (GMB) after widely supported organising efforts in its Coventry, UK, warehouse. Workers have since taken over 15 days of strike action there.  

Amazon has spurned German union ver.di’s decade-long effort to negotiate a collective agreement. Moreover, its lengthy history of anti-union – and unlawful – practices in the US further underscores its persistent resistance to constructive labour relations. 

Amazon’s track record shows that investors cannot confine their efforts to AGMs if they genuinely aim to uphold workers’ rights. True commitment requires consistent engagement.  

The truth is that championing workers’ rights, encompassing freedom of association and collective bargaining, yields benefits that extend far beyond the workforce – it boosts the bottom line as well.  

Investors need to put time and resources behind not only their engagement with Amazon, but in robust stewardship on freedom of association and collective bargaining across their portfolios. To do this effectively, investors must meaningfully and regularly engage with trade unions, as they are best placed to bring in insights from workers on the ground – a vital perspective for informed engagement with companies. 

At UNI Global Union, we work to support investors to improve their stewardship and engagement practices on fundamental labour rights. Last year, UNI as part of the Global Unions’ Committee on Workers’ Capital published ‘Shared Prosperity’, a report that outlines why and how investors should engage with companies to protect workers’ rights to join a union and bargain collectively. 

The time for change has come, demanding both accountability and a transformative shift in mindset. This is not merely a matter of corporate social responsibility; it represents a staunch fight for justice and equity within our economic framework. Investors possess formidable influence, and now is the moment to rise to the occasion, shaking off any trace of complacency. The call for action resounds loud and clear — workers’ rights must never be compromised. 

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