50 investors write to Amazon in relation to workers’ rights to organise

5 June 2024

  • CCLA leads group of investors including NEST and Storebrand, backed by over $1.2 trillion under management/advice
  • Concerns persist over Amazon’s response to workers’ right to organise at Coventry fulfilment centre
  • Allegations point to misalignment between Amazon’s stated policies on human rights and implementation at Coventry facility

CCLA has sent a letter to Amazon supported by 50 investor signatories representing over $1.2 trillion in assets under management and advice. The letter expresses concerns over Amazon’s alleged response to the organising of workers at its Coventry fulfilment centre in the UK and to urge Amazon to prove that they are implementing their Global Human Rights Principles1.

Despite Amazon’s policies outlining commitment to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Core Conventions, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concerns persist in respect to how these are implemented by the business.

The letter, supported by investor signatories including NEST and Storebrand, states that investors believe Amazon’s alleged actions in response to workers trying to organise at Coventry is misaligned with the company’s stated approach to human rights. Investors ask Amazon for an explanation of the company’s approach to respecting the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and how its policies and procedures are implemented in practice at the Coventry facility.

Investor concerns follow legal action undertaken in April this year by GMB Union when it filed legal proceedings against Amazon for what it calls ‘widespread attempts to coerce staff to cancel their trade union membership’2. GMB Union alleges that anti-union messages have been displayed at the fulfilment centre as well as delivered by management to staff in meetings during work time. Allegedly, company bosses have erected QR codes in Amazon fulfilment centres which generate an email to the union’s membership department requesting that membership is cancelled.

In 2023, CCLA and a group of investors wrote to Amazon, encouraging them to voluntarily recognise GMB union at the Coventry site. Since then, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), has ruled in favour of GMB’s application for a union recognition vote at the Coventry facility, however, Amazon has not yet voluntarily recognised the union.

The investor letter follows a proposal put forward by more than 20 investors at Amazon’s recent AGM calling for an independent report into Amazon’s commitment to employees’ freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. While the resolution did not pass, it did secure 37.4%3 of the independent shareholder votes.

Peter Hugh Smith, CCLA Chief Executive, said:

As an investor in Amazon, we want to do the right thing – both by our clients who expect us to be good stewards of their capital and by Amazon’s employees. In light of the countless media reports and allegations, and given two major ESG data providers have expressed concerns, questions from investors need to be answered. We want to see Amazon appoint a reputable third party to assess how they implement their human rights policies in UK fulfilment centres and to commit to rectifying any areas of non-conformance identified. The clock is ticking and it is time for Amazon to set the record straight.

Martin Buttle, Better Work Lead at CCLA, said:

Given Amazon is an extremely profitable global company and we are talking about its operations in the sixth largest economy, we find reports of its anti-union activities at the Coventry fulfilment centre, its surveillance of workers and how this allegedly impacts upon their ability to take comfort breaks truly staggering. We need Amazon to confirm whether or not these allegations have any foundation and to assure investors that appropriate redress will be undertaken if required.

Declan McAndrew, Head of Investment Research at Foster Denovo, said:

As an investment adviser, we field questions from our clients. We understand only too well the strength of feeling that investors large and small have in relation to Amazon. We are delighted that the advisory community are signatories to this letter and join the ever-growing chorus of investor voices singing from the same hymn sheet.

Emilie Westholm, Head of Responsible Investments and Corporate Governance at Folksam said:

As an investor in Amazon, we are concerned by Amazon’s repeated pattern of behaviour and failure to respect and adhere to international labour rights standards and their own Global Human Rights Principles. This misalignment presents both operational and reputational risks, that if continue to be left unaddressed may threaten long-term shareholder value.

Kiran Aziz, Head of Responsible Investments at KLP said:

It is of great concern to see that despite the ongoing shareholder efforts to engage Amazon on the topic over the past years and most recently in relation to the AGM 2024, the company continues to face multiple allegations across the world regarding its commitment to respect worker's freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, and does not show sufficient responsiveness to investor concerns. Amazon is a public company with a global presence and a global investor base including institutional investors with a long-term perspective as its shareholders. Therefore, we expect the company to respect its commitments to international standards and be transparent on company's actions to respect and deliver on its commitments.