Image by Recklessstudios from Pixabay

Wednesday Shareholder Vote is Real Test for “Walking the Talk” at Amazon; How Does Stonewalling on Transparency Look for a Company that Claims Leadership Status on Wages and Benefits for Workers?

Even as it spends millions of dollars proclaiming its commitment to relatively high wages and benefits for entry-level workers, Amazon management is urging its shareholders to vote “no” Wednesday on a proxy resolution that would have it join the corporate elite – Citigroup, Mastercard, Starbucks, Pfizer, Citigroup, Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon, and Adobe – that are disclosing detailed median racial and gender pay gap data, according to the investment management firm Arjuna Capital.

This proxy season, BNY Mellon and Adobe have both agreed to release or already have released unadjusted median pay equity data, as they were requested to do by Arjuna Capital. On March 21, 2021, Arjuna Capital and Proxy Impact released the annual “Racial and Gender Pay Scorecard,” in which over half (26) of 51 graded companies got an “F.”  In that ranking, Amazon received a “C” grade.

On Wednesday, attendees at the Amazon annual general meeting will have the opportunity to vote on the comparable resolution to those that were embraced by management at Citigroup, MasterCard, Starbucks, Pfizer, Citigroup, BNY Mellon, and Adobe.  The resolution to be decided Wednesday urges Amazon to address its racial and gender pay gaps—that is how much on average, or on the median, minorities and women are paid versus their white majority and male colleagues—by releasing the detailed unadjusted data already being provided by other corporate leaders, and published for Amazon’s own UK operations, due to a public policy mandate.

Natasha Lamb, managing partner, Arjuna Capital, said: “It’s time for Amazon to start walking its own talk on higher pay and better benefits.  The company is absolutely right that steps toward fair pay are noteworthy and can help build a stronger company. That is why it is so troubling that Amazon will not publish a transparent and honest accounting of racial and gender pay gaps.  If Amazon is truly committed to diversity, higher wages, strong benefits and a fair workplace then the data will bear that out.  If the data does not bear that out, then it’s clear the company needs to do more to address structural racism and sexism—and investors will have a yardstick to measure progress.”

Arjuna Capital is an investor champion of workplace concerns for minorities and women.  In the 2020 proxy season, Arjuna Capital submitted a total of 13 shareholder resolutions seeking median race and gender pay gap disclosure, and an additional four in 2021. Since 2016, Arjuna has compelled gender pay equity disclosures at 22 companies, and racial pay equity disclosures at 17 companies, including leading U.S. tech, finance, and retail firms Apple, Intel, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Nike, and Adobe.

While many U.S. companies have agreed to disclose adjusted gender/racial pay gaps, almost all have refused to provide investors unadjusted (median) pay gap data beyond their U.K. operations, where it is mandated. Median pay is considered the valid method of measuring pay inequity by the United States Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor, OECD, and the International Labor Organization.

Why is the Amazon shareholder vote so important?  In addition to the fact that Amazon’s recent steps on higher wages and better benefits seem to be encouraging other companies to do the same, the retail giant is the second-largest private employer in the U.S. (dwarfed only by Walmart) and the fifth largest in the world. In 2020, Amazon added 427,300 employees and now has more than 1.2 million people on its payroll.  It is estimated that Amazon adds roughly 1,400 new employees a day.

Pay inequity persists in the United States across race and gender. Black workers’ hourly median earnings, adjusted for inflation, have fallen 3.6 percent since 2000, representing 75.6 percent of white workers’ wages.

Women in the U.S. make 82 cents on the dollar versus men.  Intersecting race and gender, compared to white men, African American women make 62 cents on the dollar, Native women 60 cents, and Latina women 54 cents. Black workers make 75.6 cents on the dollar versus white workers. Black men make 87 cents on the dollar versus white men, while Hispanic men make 91 cents.

Citigroup estimates that closing U.S. minority and gender wage gaps 20 years ago could have generated 12 trillion dollars in additional national income and contributed 0.15 percent to United States GDP per year. PwC estimates closing the gender pay gap could boost Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries’ economies by $2 trillion annually.

Racial and gender pay equity is now a key area of focus for companies. WorldatWork and Korn Ferry report that 60 percent of U.S. companies are working to address pay inequity across race and gender, and those not taking action are considering doing so. In 2019, 48 percent of more than 1,300 companies surveyed reported auditing salary data and pay practices, while 24 percent reported revising hiring practices.

 Arjuna Capital is a sustainable and impact investment firm that works with high-net-worth individuals, families, and institutions to invest their assets with a lens toward Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risk and opportunity. Natasha Lamb and Arjuna Capital have been recognized for using shareholder resolutions to promote gender and racial pay equity in the tech, banking, and retail sectors. Lamb was named to the “Bloomberg 50” list of influencers who defined global business in 2017.