Amazon Shareholders Reject Environmental Resolutions on Plastic Packaging, Climate Crisis

An Oceana billboard outside Amazon's Seattle headquarters urges the company to reduce its plastic use
An Oceana campaign urges Amazon to reduce its plastic use, outside of Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Oceana

Amazon shareholders rejected a proposal that would have mandated that the company report on how much plastic it used, the plusses of reducing plastic use and the minuses of continuing its current habits. 

This was just one of 15 environmental or social-justice proposals that shareholders voted down at the company’s annual meeting Wednesday, even as they accepted CEO Andy Jassy’s compensation package of more than $212 million, The Seattle Times reported. The plastics proposal followed on the heels of an Oceana report finding that Amazon’s plastic packaging waste had risen by 29 percent between 2019 and 2020, from 465 to 599 million pounds. 

“Washington’s vibrant economy – and Amazon’s global logistics – rely on our coastal waters; Amazon needs to step up and support the effort to save the world’s oceans,” Oceana’s field representative in Washington Sara Holzknecht said in an Oceana press release in support of the proposal. “Amazon’s plastic packaging generates a massive amount of waste, and plastic pollution is devastating our environment. Given its Seattle roots, Amazon should be a leader in curbing the plastics crisis facing our planet.”

Oceana also sought to gather support for the resolution by peppering Seattle neighborhoods with signs saying, “AMZN: Less plastic, please.” The organization said that 55 percent of sea birds, 70 percent of marine mammals and 100 percent of sea turtles have either eaten or gotten stuck in plastic waste. Further, the type of plastic Amazon uses – plastic film – is one of the most fatal for marine life.

Amazon contended that Oceana’s figures were not accurate and urged shareholders to vote against the resolution. The company said that it was already working on reducing its use of plastic and that it is “committed to protecting the planet,” as The Seattle Times reported. It said the Oceana report overestimated its plastic use by 300 percent. 

For its part, Amazon also said it was working to reduce plastic waste by pledging to package all Alexa and other tech products in 100 percent recyclable plastic by 2023. It also started a “Frustration-Free Packaging” program to offer financial incentives to manufacturers that use recyclable plastic packaging and is working to design “right-sized boxes” so that no extra plastic needs to be used to cushion items. 

However, in an editorial on the issue, The Seattle Times noted that Amazon has not promised to reduce or eliminate plastic packaging overall, while other consumer goods companies including Unilever and IKEA have.  

“Regardless if the resolution is successful, ‘it’s incredibly important to keep the conversation and awareness going,’ said Sara Holzknecht, Washington field representative for Oceana,” the editorial concluded. “It is good that advocates continue to bring attention to plastics pollution. It is good that Amazon understands that more ought to be done. It is up to all of us to be conscious of our shopping and recycling habits.”

Another environmental resolution that failed to pass would have reported on Amazon’s retirement holdings to make sure that they weren’t supporting oil, coal or other industries that violate the company’s climate goals.

The other failed resolutions focused largely on workers’ rights, according to The Guardian. They would have mandated reports on worker health and safety and the treatment of warehouse workers, among other issues.

“I still am trying to get my head around where we failed to convince other investors that it is the right strategy for the company to treat these workers better,” chief executive officer of activist investor Tulipshare Antoine Argouges, whose organization had sponsored a resolution calling for a report on warehouse pay and conditions, told Reuters. 

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