Amazon asks for block on shareholder hate speech proposal

Close-up of sign with logo on facade of the regional headquarters of ecommerce company Amazon in the Silicon Valley town of Sunnyvale, California, October 28, 2018. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Seattle-based, Inc. has asked federal regulators to block multiple shareholder proposals addressing criticism of company stances on curbing hate speech, diversity in hiring, workplace conditions and surveillance technologies.

Shareholders would not have an opportunity to vote on the proposals at the company’s shareholder meeting this year if the request is granted, The Seattle Times reported. Last year, none of the shareholders’ proposals were approved.

The Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment on whether it planned to allow Amazon to drop the proposals from the shareholder meeting docket.

Companies often ask the commission for permission to drop shareholder proposals and Amazon last year sought to exclude nine proposals. Amazon was given permission to exclude seven of the nine requests.

Amazon is now requesting that regulators block proposals asking the company to report on its efforts to check hate speech, consider qualified women and nonwhite candidates for all open positions, add hourly associates to its board of directors and assess whether its surveillance capabilities violate human rights.

If successful in blocking the proposals, Amazon is likely to face continued scrutiny because of the subjects of the petitions, the newspaper reported.

The request came after the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a Jewish organization focused on social justice, introduced a shareholder proposal last month asking for a comprehensive report on Amazon’s "efforts to address hate speech and the sale or promotion of offensive products throughout its businesses."

The foundation said at the time of the proposal, Amazon’s policies on offensive products did not apply to books, music, video and DVDs.

"With respect to these products, Amazon’s algorithm for product searches proactively directs customers who search for white supremacist content to additional extremist content," the foundation said.

Amazon sent a letter to the commission on Monday saying a report on its efforts to repress hate speech is unnecessary because it had published a blog post the previous day outlining its policies and efforts to remove offensive product listings.

Amazon on Tuesday then updated its guidelines for books and similar materials to add a ban on "offensive content."

Amazon has also been criticized about its highest-paid employees overwhelmingly being white men and its lack of employee representatives on the company board of directors.

One shareholder proposal suggests the company adopt a rule requiring recruiters to consider a diverse pool of new hire candidates. The proposal by the AFL-CIO union indicated Amazon could decide precisely what diversity standard to implement.

Amazon argued it did not need to set goals for candidate diversity because it already "substantially implemented" similar measures by partnering with diverse colleges and institutions and hosting career fairs "to help people — regardless of their level of experience, professional field, or background — find new opportunities."

The AFL-CIO acknowledged the company made substantial efforts to increase the number of women and people of color working at the company. But Amazon still reports that 72% of managers were white and 59% were men at the end of 2019.