At today's Amazon shareholder meeting in Seattle the company announced that it is dropping support for ALEC, while fudging questions about its taxes and voting down proposals to report its efforts to address climate change and to disclose its political spending.
Amazon's annual shareholder meeting took place in Seattle this morning. It was a brief, pro-forma event that took place in a small auditorium in an art museum and lasted only about 45 minutes. The general meeting was run by two corporate communications staffers, with CEO Jeff Bezos appearing (in jeans) for a brief presentation. There was a brief "mic check" disruption at the close of the meeting and a crowd outside protesting the company's practices.
These shareholder meetings are often displays of corporate arrogance and near-defiance of government requirements to hold public meetings. Amazon's meeting today was notable, with the company announcing the results of shareholder balloting even as the ballots were being collected from attendees. The real voting had already taken place; the shareholders who count -- the 1% owns 50.9% of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds, the next 9% own another 39.4% -- had already spoken.
At one point in the meeting attendees at the meeting were able to ask questions, and a question about Amazon's funding of the shadowy right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was answered with the announcement that Amazon is dropping their support of the organization "for this year." The company's corporate-speak wording was approximately thus: "We regularly evaluate our memberships in different organizations and we have determined that we will not renew our support of ALEC for this year." At the end of the meeting a shareholder said he was disappointed that the company "bowed to political pressure" and dropped their support of this wonderful organization that did so much good. But he was happy that Amazon has provided such good returns.
Amazon dodged a question about dodging its taxes. During the presentation, Amazon CEO Bezos said that in the last two years the company has paid $1.3 billion in taxes, including withholding and property taxes. Withholding means money collected from employees that includes Social Security and personal income taxes. Called on this later, a company spokesman hedged and obfuscated, without providing information on just how much the company pays in actual corporate taxes.
There were two shareholder proposals presented at the meeting, with Amazon's board recommending that shareholders vote against both.
The first was a proposal that Amazon assess the impact of climate change on the company -- specifically risks related to greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and logistics -- and announce the corporation's plans to publicly disclose this assessment. The board recommended that shareholders vote against this proposal. It was announced during the collection of ballots that this proposal was rejected by the shareholders.
The second was a proposal that Amazon disclose its political spending. This proposal asked Amazon to join with best practices of corporate governance and recognize the need to participate in their community in positive ways. The Board recommended that shareholders vote against this proposal. It was announced during the collection of ballots that this proposal was rejected by the shareholders.
Another criticism of Amazon has been its working conditions, particularly in its warehouses. Amazon said at the meeting that they are installing air conditioners in older warehouses, and newer ones have air conditioning. A spokesperson also said that the company matches the "metrics compared to industry benchmarks." Attendees who still have souls were left speechless.
As the meeting drew to a close there was a "mic check" with several attendees joining in, linking arms, and being led out of the meeting by police. There were no arrests.
As the meeting took place there was a large crowd -- maybe 200 people -- outside the building, holding signs and repeating chants led by people with megaphones.
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