'Huge victory' - Amazon drops ALEC, will spend millions on AC

May 24, 2012

"Today we saw a huge victory..."

Michelle Wilson, a Senior Vice President at Amazon, told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting today in Seattle that Amazon would drop its support for the controversial group ALEC because the public policy organization had made decisions unrelated to Amazon’s business.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, also told shareholders that the company would spend $52 million to add air-conditioning to its packaging facilities this year.

Amazon came under intense public pressure when a newspaper in Pennsylvania reported on the poor working conditions at its “fulfillment centers.”

After declaring more than 500 protesters would welcome participants in Amazon's annual shareholder meeting at the Seattle Art Museum, the activist organization Working Washington attracted roughly 100 to the front doors under the Hammering Man sculpture this morning.

However, with the announcement from Amazon that it would spend millions improving working conditions and drop its support for the controversial corporate promotion group ALEC (or, the American Legislative Exchange Council), the protesters declared a victory.

Protester Kristiane Skolmen said she was thrilled that Amazon had decided to sever ties with ALEC.

"Today we saw a huge victory with Amazon announcing they will no longer renew their membership to ALEC, and that is just absolutely incredible," Skolmen said. "We had over half a million petitions between our allied organizations to deliver today, and they decide to go back because of public pressure."

Amazon joins others

The protesters were there to tell Amazon to start "paying their fair share of taxes, treating workers with respect, and ending support for the extreme right-wing organization known as ALEC," according to the group's press release.

Some protesters apparently bought a single share of Amazon stock just to gain access to the meeting, KING 5 reports.

"I have a legal right to be in the meeting," protester David Ludden told the Seattle television station. "This is the way we can get in and talk to the shareholders and appeal to their conscious."

The Seattle Times reports that the shareholders meeting began at 9 a.m. and drew about 200 people, twice as many as usual for the annual event.

Amazon.com is following other companies that have pulled out of ALEC including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald's, Kraft Foods and Intuit, Inc., Seattlepi.com reports.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced earlier this year that it will no longer give grant money to ALEC.

For more on ALEC and Amazon's decision to drop support for the group, check out Seattlepi.com's story.

Local media examines Amazon

The technology blog Xconomy editorialized that the meeting had a paranoid feel to it:

"Audio recording was also banned, which seemed excessive … Reporters were constantly accompanied by minders, and some of them were using the in-ear speakers and wrist microphones you expect to see on Secret Service agents. Uniformed cops were everywhere, and security was just below airport-and-courthouse grade, with metal detectors and bag inspections at the gate. Shareholders had to present ID and documentation of their stock holdings to get in."

The tech blog added that the tension between Amazon and activists was likely to continue as Amazon’s footprint in liberal Seattle explodes.

The Seattle Times also has taken the online mega-retailer to task in its four-part series: “Behind the Amazon.com smile.”

After explaining that Amazon’s “approach to its customers is widely and deservedly hailed as among the best in the world” the Time’s Executive Editor David Boardman lists these faults facing the company’s reputation:

“In Seattle, the company's relative absence in philanthropic and civic causes had become a whispered buzz. In California and elsewhere, Amazon had fought new laws forcing it to collect sales taxes just as its brick-and-mortar competitors must. In Pennsylvania, a newspaper in Allentown had revealed brutal working conditions in an Amazon warehouse there. And across the country, a few independent book publishers were beginning to quietly push back against what they felt were unfair, strong-arm tactics in business dealings with Amazon.”

The meeting agenda

In its “20121 Proxy Statement,” Amazon lists its agenda:

  • To elect the ten directors named in the Proxy Statement to serve until the next Annual Meeting of Shareholders or until their respective successors are elected and qualified
  • To ratify the appointment of Ernst & Young LLP as our independent auditors for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2012
  • To approve the material terms of the performance goals, as amended, pursuant to Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) in our 1997 Stock Incentive Plan (the “1997 Plan”)
  • To consider and act upon two shareholder proposals, if properly presented at the Annual Meeting
  • To transact such other business as may properly come before the meeting or any adjournment or postponement thereof