Amazon is conducting a racial equality audit to look at any disparities in the impact of its policies, programs, and practices on hourly workers.
Faced with shareholder pressure to provide more information about pay gaps, working conditions, and procedures that may be harming women, people of color, and other minorities, Amazon announced in a recent legal filing that it had hired former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an audit to “evaluate any disparate racial impacts on our nearly one million U.S. hourly employees resulting from our policies, programs, and practices.”
According to the filing, the audit is part of the company’s “existing commitment to human and civil rights, racial justice, diversity and inclusion, and nondiscrimination.”
Amazon said it will make the audit’s findings public, but it wouldn’t say when it would be finished or what the audit would look at.
Only hourly employees will be audited; workers at Whole Foods and PillPack, Amazon’s pharmaceutical facilities where staff pack and transport prescriptions, will not be included.
The audit will be conducted by attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City, with Lynch as the lead. The company has recently defended Amazon in an antitrust action brought by Attorney General Karl Racine of Washington, D.C., contesting Amazon’s pricing methods. The lawsuit was dismissed by a D.C. Superior Court judge in March.
The racial equity audit was announced in an annual filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, ahead of Amazon’s quarterly results call with investors next week and its shareholder meeting in May.
At Amazon’s most recent annual meeting, a shareholder motion asking a comparable audit failed to succeed, although 44 percent of stakeholders voted in support of it. Shareholders proposed a diversity and equity audit again this year, requesting a report that analyzes the implications of the company’s policies, procedures, goods, and services “through a racial equality lens.” It requests an evaluation of Amazon’s diversity, equality, and inclusion strategy, as well as how the business is dealing with any latent prejudices.
“Because of the pattern and size of problems that Amazon has faced in the past, we feel that it is in Amazon’s best interests to proactively identify and reduce risks via an independent racial equality audit,” according to the proposal.
Shareholders presented numerous more suggestions ahead of Amazon’s annual meeting to investigate how the company’s policies and products may be contributing to racial and gender disparities, including:
Whether Amazon’s health and safety procedures result in racial and gender inequities in workplace injury rates, hurting women and minority warehouse employees’ long-term pay and career development.
More data on gender and racial pay disparities is needed to overcome the “structural prejudice” that women and minorities confront when it comes to work opportunities and compensation.
A public assessment on the danger to Amazon of adopting contract terms relating to harassment and discrimination, such as nondisclosure agreements.
An independent investigation found that Amazon Web Services’ Rekognition face recognition algorithm is “worse at detecting Black women than white males and misgenders nonbinary persons,” according to an independent study.
All of those suggestions, as well as one that requests for a broader inquiry of labor conditions in Amazon’s warehouses, are being recommended by Amazon’s board of directors for shareholders to vote against.
The board cited a study from earlier this year that revealed the incidence of injury at its facilities has decreased, as well as its investment in new technology, research, and processes to safeguard warehouse workers.
Amazon is “dedicated to the proper use of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” according to the board, and has never received a complaint of the technology being exploited “in the way described in this proposal.” The board said that it frequently examines employee well-being and workplace safety in relation to pay inequalities and racial and gender inequities, and that Amazon is “committed to supporting and promoting diversity.”
According to the SEC filing, Amazon’s board of directors is made up of six males and five women. There are nine white persons, one black person, and one Asian person among the 11 total members.
It employs 1.6 million people all across the globe.