The move, which Amazon (AMZN) disclosed in a filing late last week, followed shareholder pressure to conduct a racial equity audit to address what the shareholders described as controversies around the company’s hiring practices and its ability to protect warehouse workers, many of whom are Black.
The shareholder proposal to conduct an audit was submitted by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund and put forward ahead of Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting next month.
“The focus of the audit will be to evaluate any disparate racial impacts on our nearly one million US hourly employees resulting from our policies, programs, and practices,” Amazon’s board said in the filing last week.
The company said the audit will be conducted by Lynch and others at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Lynch became the first Black woman to serve as US Attorney General in 2015 and has been a partner at the law firm since 2019. The law firm did not immediately respond to CNN Business’ request for comment on the audit.
Amazon said it will publicly release the results from the audit once it is completed.
In response to a request for further comment, Amazon directed CNN Business to the SEC filing. In the filing, Amazon’s board urged shareholders to vote against a separate proposal requesting a diversity and equity audit. “We believe that commissioning a separate audit of the same issues is unnecessary,” it said.
In response to Amazon’s decision to conduct an audit, Matthew Sweeney, a spokesperson for DiNapoli’s office, expressed some concerns. “Comptroller DiNapoli and the state’s pension fund look forward to learning more about Amazon’s proposed racial equity audit, but remain concerned that the company has provided few details and has made no assurances that the audit will be independent,” Sweeney told CNN Business in a statement Tuesday.
Amazon’s announcement that it will conduct a racial equity audit comes just weeks after workers at a Staten Island, New York, warehouse voted to form the e-commerce giant’s first-ever US labor union. Amazon has since filed an appeal, calling for a do-over of the entire vote. A separate Amazon union election in Bessemer, Alabama, also concluded recently with the results too close to call.
Both union efforts were borne out of worker frustrations with Amazon’s treatment of workers amid the pandemic and were also motivated in part by increased national attention to racial justice issues and labor rights.
“I don’t think the timing coming so close on the heels of the votes in Staten Island and Bessemer are a coincidence,” Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution whose research focuses on the present and future of work, especially for low-wage workers, told CNN Business Tuesday. “I think the company is taking seriously what’s happening on the union fronts.”
She noted that Amazon’s own data reveals that “almost a third of their more entry-level warehouse workers are Black, and that’s almost triple the representation of Black workers in the overall labor force.” Like many major US companies, however, Kinder notes that Black representation at Amazon dwindles at the corporate and higher-levels of management.
“Amazon is by far one of the most successful companies during the pandemic. They’ve seen just enormous growth, large profit increases and big share price increases,” Kinder said. The ones who are “really seeing the real fruits of that financial success,” she said, are the “disproportionately White” executives and major shareholders.
While Kinder said she views Amazon conducting this audit and gathering data as an important first step, “obviously, what Amazon then does with that information is really where we’ll see whether or not change will happen.”