Amazon shareholders demand end to pollution that hits people of color hardest

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An internal petition signed by 640 Amazon tech and corporate workers calls on the company to raise its emissions targets and address the disproportionate environmental damage its logistics empire is leaving on black, Latino, neighborhoods, and cities. natives and immigrants where its warehouses are often concentrated.

The petition was organized by the influential Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group of employees, many of whom are receiving actions with their positions, after Amazon successfully appealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission. to prohibit a proposal of the group to be included in the general meeting of shareholders of the company on May 26. Amazon is the country’s second largest employer, with over a million workers, including employees of Whole Foods and its extensive fulfillment and delivery operations.

“As employees, we are alarmed that Amazon’s pollution is disproportionately concentrated in communities of color,” read the petition obtained by NBC News. “We want to be proud of where we work. An essential part of this is a business that upholds its racial equity claims and fills the racial equity gap in its operations. “

The group is also asking Amazon to provide detailed research into how its logistics and delivery operations pose disproportionate environmental and health risks to communities of color, and to prioritize these communities in its emissions reduction strategy. . Amazon is currently engaged to neutralize its carbon emissions by 2040, but the group asks the company to raise its goal to zero emissions by 2030, when climate science estimates determined that global warming could lead to the irreversible loss of fragile ecosystems.

“We are committed to finding innovative solutions to reduce emissions and are transforming our transportation network with investments that help us deliver packages in a more sustainable way to support the communities in which we operate,” said Brad Glasser, a door – spoken by Amazon. “As part of this work, we co-founded the Climate Pledge – a commitment to be net zero carbon in our business operations 10 years before the Paris Agreement.”

Pedestrians pass the spheres, biodomes filled with plants, at Amazon headquarters in Seattle on May 20. David Ryder / Getty Images

Amazon’s employee climate group submitted its shareholder proposal because those employees received shares as part of their compensation. Amazon employees first used their actions to present their concerns about the company’s climate impact to their co-shareholders in 2019. Although it was not adopted, it was the first time that workers in the tech industry have used their position as owners of company shares to influence their employer to change its business practices.

Dangerous air

Climate change advocates and policymakers have expressed concerns about the pollution created by the thousands of diesel trucks, airplanes and vans used across the country to transport Amazon orders through the vast network of warehouses of the company to meet its two-day delivery promise. About 80% of those warehouses are located in zip codes with higher populations of Blacks, Latinos and Indigenous people compared to neighboring zip codes in the same metropolitan areas, according to the Amazon employee. group search with data collected by the logistics consulting firm MWPVL International.

As online shopping increased with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, communities such as Inland Empire in Southern California have suffered the brunt of the environmental impact of increased pollution, according to a report published last month by the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice. The group found that the increase in warehouses in the area correlated with a general increase in poor air quality and subsequent health problems, including asthma, bronchitis and cancer, which hit consumers the most. communities of color, according to the report. Amazon is the region’s largest employer with 19 locations.

Still, the company is expanding its operations in the Inland Empire with a huge logistics hub at San Bernardino Airport. The 700,000 square foot facility is expected to bring 26 additional flights and 500 truck trips per day, which a Environmental assessment by the airport authority, it will collectively emit 1 tonne of air pollution per day. Although the assessment ultimately revealed that the airport hub would meet federal requirements, then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the Federal Aviation Administration and the local airport authority alleged last year that the project was illegal and will cause significant damage to the air quality of local communities. The city of San Bernardino is 65% Latino, according to the census.

Construction crews are working on the site of Amazon Air’s new regional air hub at San Bernardino International Airport in California on July 1, 2020.Watchara Phomicinda / Orange County Register via ZUMA

Amazon spokesperson Glasser said the company is installing 10 solar rooftops in the Inland Empire and investing in large-scale renewable energy projects to scale its operations to 100% renewable energy from by 2025, five years ahead of the company’s goals.

The 640 Amazon workers who signed the petition are also calling on the company to deploy its electric vehicles in areas most affected by the pollution created by its delivery operations. “An electric delivery truck in a Seattle suburb doesn’t help a child with asthma live and go to school near a large shipping hub, like in the Inland Empire,” Selene Xenia, head of engineering at Amazon that is part of the employee climate group, said in an interview.

Some of Amazon’s new electric vehicles are program to be tested in Los Angeles for the first time this year.

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Amazon’s employee climate group has helped spark a wave of climate activism in some of the country’s best-known tech companies. Thousands of technicians at companies such as Google, Twitter and Microsoft have joined Amazon employees in going out from their offices in 2019 to inspire their own employers to do more to tackle climate change.

Shareholder proposals related to climate change began to proliferate in the United States in 2014, according to Institutional Shareholder Services, an international corporate governance and investor advisory firm. Last year, shareholders passed five climate-related proposals in companies such as DollarTree, JB Hunt Transport, Phillips 66 and Chevron.

Maximilian Horster, Managing Director and Head of Climate Solutions at Institutional Shareholder Services, said all companies need to make an environmental agenda a higher priority.

“When you look at the scale of climate change, a dozen companies passing a resolution is not enough,” he said. “Shareholder resolutions are part of the solution. But they are not the only ones because there are only a limited number of resolutions. “

Amazon employees join forces at company headquarters to demand that executives take action on climate change on September 20, 2019 in Seattle. Jason Redmond / AFP – Getty Images File

Yet Amazon employee climate activism has caught the attention of company executives. Tim Bray, former vice president of Amazon who resigned last year citing a “culture of toxicity,” signed a group petition in 2019 calling on the company to reduce its carbon footprint and sever ties with the oil and gas industry. Amazon also fired two of the employee climate group’s top organizers last year, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, citing violations of company policy that prohibits employees from publicly commenting on its activities. The National Labor Relations Board determined last month that their layoffs were illegal.

Amazon says it disagrees with the Labor Relations Board’s decision. “We support the right of every employee to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with complete immunity from our internal policies, which are all legal,” said Glasser, an Amazon spokesperson.

A day before Amazon’s organized employee walkout for climate justice in 2019, CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans to deploy a fleet of electric vans by 2024 and the company’s goal of becoming carbon neutral. by 2040. Amazon shares. The company denies that its climate pledge was made in response to employee demands.

“I think tech workers have a responsibility to talk about these issues and push their employer,” said Xenia, the Amazon employee. “Amazon wouldn’t exist without its employees. We are its greatest asset. “

“It is not always easy to get leaders to react or recognize quickly. But the more we talk, the clearer it is that we are being heard and that things are changing.

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