Amazon 2019 shareholder meeting becomes testy

Environmentalists protest outside the Amazon shareholder meeting

Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

Amazon's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday became hostile as shareholders asked for changes in a number of cases, ranging from renewable energy to equal pay.

Thousands of shareholders, including current employees, met in Seattle and presented their case in over 12 different proposals. They included a requirement that the company implement measures against climate change through energy use, as well as improve diversity and profitability in the workforce. Two of the resolutions requested that Amazon stop the sale of its face recognition software to government agencies, as backers say, claiming concerns about racial disturbances and discrimination.

While large corporations often face divers among investors at their annual meetings, Amazon is in a particularly sensitive place due to its growing size, influence and CEO Jeff Bezos incredible wealth ̵[ads1]1; he passed Bill Gates in 2017 to become the world's richest person. Amazon is facing pressure from politicians, regulators, and activists on how it pays and treats warehouse workers, how it gathers consumer data, and promotes products and how it uses artificial intelligence.

Emily Cunningham, an Amazon employee who led the Climate Change Initiative, asked Bezos to come out on stage to listen to her presentation. Bezos did not arrive later when he questioned the crowd. However, about 50 people in the room stood up during the presentation in support of their resolution and asked Amazon to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Protests outside the Amazon shareholder meeting

Paayal Zaveri | CNBC

Shankar Narayan, the ACLU director who called for the ban on Amazon's face recognition technology, did so by displaying test results indicating racial disturbances and discrimination in the software. He said that surveillance technology targeting immigrants and religious minorities, adding that Amazon would stop the sale of the software unless the board could prove that it did not harm civil rights.

"Face monitoring changes the balance of power between government and individuals," he said.

When Bezos later took the stage for a question and answer, he was asked about Amazon's climate goals. He said it is difficult to find a problem that is more important than climate change. Kara Hurst, Amazon's leader of the world's sustainability, said the company will release its carbon footprint "later this year."

All resolutions were rejected by shareholder votes. The company said a submission of the vote will be revealed on Friday.

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