Amazon will perform a racial equity audit of its nearly one million hourly employees, the company said last week in a statement to shareholders. The company is hiring a law firm to conduct the audit, which will be led by former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and released to the public. But some critics say the audit should extend to the corporate level, instead of Amazon’s traditionally more diverse warehouse workers.
“Before you applaud this step, read the fine print. This audit will not include Amazon’s negative practices impacting Black employees at the corporate level. That’s a major carve out,” tweeted tech entrepreneur Charlotte Newman, a former corporate employee who once sued the company for racial and gender discrimination.
Amazon made clear that the purpose of the audit would be to study if there was any disparate racial impacts from its policies. "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," the company said in its statement.
The decision comes a year after Amazon investors rejected a number of shareholder proposals focused on racial equity and diversity at the company. One of the rejected proposals would invite an hourly employee to join Amazon’s board.
“Amazon’s board lacks representation from hourly employees, who thoroughly understand the company’s daily operations. Women and racial minorities, which constitute a large percentage of Amazon’s hourly associates, are also comparatively underrepresented at the board level, which remains predominantly male and white,” wrote the proposal’s author.
Amazon’s board of directors recommended against voting for the proposal. “Our current process to identify and nominate directors has successfully recruited diverse and qualified directors with extensive human capital management experience,” wrote the board.
Another rejected proposal called for a more extensive racial audit of Amazon’s corporate and hourly workforce. A large percentage of Amazon’s hourly associates are women and racial minorities and its corporate workforce is overwhelmingly white. Nearly 60 percent of Amazon’s lowest-paid hourly workers are Black or Hispanic, according to a 2021 company report that looked at the past two years of demographic data. More than half of Amazon’s hourly workers are women. Meanwhile, Amazon’s highest-paid workers are white or Asian and male.
The company has faced multiple lawsuits from former and current employees who allege they faced race and gender discrimination at work. Back in February, a New York federal judge dismissed a class action racial discrimination lawsuit made by a former Amazon warehouse manager regarding its Covid-19 policies.
Amazon plans to hold its annual shareholder’s meeting on May 25th, where investors will vote on a number of proposals on racial equity and healthcare. Amazon has advised shareholders to vote against a proposal that would call for a full, top-down racial equity audit of the entire company.
“There is no public evidence that Amazon is assessing the potential or actual negative impacts of its polices, practices, products and services through a racial equity lens,” stated the shareholder’s proposal.