A shareholder proposal asking the board of Amazon to evaluate the civil and human rights risks of the company’s facial recognition technology, called Rekognition, won support from 28% of all shareholders — and 37% of independent shareholders — according to a Securities and Exchange Commision filing by Amazon late last week. The independent vote is the calculation of shareholder support when excluding CEO Jeff Bezos’ 16% control of inside shares.
The first-of-its-kind resolution, filed by Harrington Investments, Inc. and organized by Open MIC, asks Amazon to address the risks posed by sales of surveillance technology, including “the extent to which such technology may endanger, threaten, or violate privacy and or civil rights, and unfairly or disproportionately target or surveil people of color, immigrants, and activists.” The outcome of the vote is precedent-setting, demonstrating that shareholders understand the social and business risks of facial recognition technology and are prepared to press for corporate accountability on this issue over the long-term.
The shareholder proposal received strong support despite Amazon’s numerous legal attempts to block shareholders from being able to vote on the proposal, and despite Mr. Bezos’ refusal to be present during the annual meeting when a civil rights advocate stood up to speak personally about how the sale of Rekognition threatens the lives and safety of people of color and immigrants.
Michael Connor, Executive Director, Open MIC: “The arrogance is appalling: Amazon, as a company, continually refuses to address the massive risks posed by the sale of its face recognition surveillance technology, and then its CEO has the audacity to refuse to show his face to the very people he is putting at risk. Any shareholder proposal that is backed by over a third of independent shareholders represents a major red flag to a board of directors; Amazon’s board needs to recognize the warning signs and act immediately to address the material risks presented by Rekognition. This is just the beginning of the process: shareholders won’t be backing down anytime soon.”