Over the next week, shareholders at three of the most powerful tech platforms in the world will have their chance to make their voices heard on pressing issues of human rights and corporate governance. As Meta, Alphabet, and Amazon hold their annual general meetings (AGMs), we are calling on shareholders at those companies to use their vote to ensure that the companies adopt and implement meaningful human rights practices. We urge shareholders to support the following proposals that push these tech platforms toward greater accountability for their human rights impacts.
After several whistleblowers came forward last year revealing how Facebook continually prioritized profits over the safety of its users, it’s no surprise that corporate governance is in the spotlight at Meta’s AGM this year. A responsible company requires best-in-class corporate governance to ensure a smooth flow of information and executive decisions, especially when those decisions are made to inform the operational level of the company. This includes nominating an independent Board of Directors, including the Chair, to guide the operational management, and where needed, to hold them to account. Meta’s corporate governance has fallen far short of these standards.
To this end, Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE) has submitted several resolutions ahead of the 2022 AGM asking shareholders to send a clear message to Meta’s board by:
- Voting AGAINST the renomination of two candidates for the Board of Directors who lack independence due to their close ties to Mark Zuckerberg;
- Voting FOR eliminating the dual-class structure in order to reinforce shareholders’ voice; and
- Voting FOR separating the roles of CEO and Chair of the Board of Directors to allow the Board to exercise proper oversight.
Meta is advising its shareholders to turn all these proposals down, but the company’s record demonstrates just how necessary these measures are. For example, Meta’s failure to implement effective content moderation in Ethiopia, a nation with an estimated 10 million Facebook users, has exacerbated violence in the country in the midst of ongoing civil unrest and conflict. Furthermore, it appears clear that the company knew exactly what was going on, but did little to mitigate the situation.
Apart from the documented repeated harms to societies and its users, Meta’s financial performance should raise flags for shareholders. The company holds the dubious distinction of having had the single largest one-day drop in share price in stock market history, signaling serious instability regarding its value.
Finally, it should worry all shareholders that Meta continues to demonstrate ignorance of shareholder concerns regarding the company’s governance and leadership structures. Its track record of advising shareholders to vote against similar improvement proposals four times in recent years clearly indicates the current leadership considers itself immune to shareholder concerns.
We therefore support the SHARE Resolutions above and urge you to vote to tell Meta leadership it is time to listen to shareholders who are not named Mark Zuckerberg.
We also support the #MakeMarkListen advocacy campaign and strongly encourage shareholders to familiarize themselves with the SumOfUs Investor Briefing ahead of the AGM.
Alphabet’s plans to expand its data center operations to countries with significant human rights concerns raises a big red flag for responsible shareholders. The company’s choice to establish a Google Cloud data center in Saudi Arabia, in particular, should raise the question of whether Alphabet complies with its own policies and public commitments on human rights. The U.S. State Department Country Report on Saudi Arabia details a grim human rights record, including executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; harassment and intimidation against Saudi dissidents living abroad; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; and serious restrictions on free expression and media and censorship.
SumOfUs has submitted a shareholder proposal asking the Alphabet Board of Directors to commission a human rights assessment of the company’s plans to locate cloud centers in countries with poor human rights records. Though this proposal asks Alphabet to uphold basic human rights principles, Alphabet is nevertheless advising shareholders to vote AGAINST the proposal, stating that the company already discloses its approach to evaluating human rights risks. However, none of the resources Alphabet relies on provide sufficient information on specific human rights assessment that applies to its expansion of its cloud centers. Until Google publicly releases the results of any human rights assessment it has undergone, we are left with more questions than answers.
We therefore support the SumOfUs resolution and urge all responsible shareholders to vote yes on proposal 13 to ensure all users and Google stakeholders have access to the risk assessments, including the mitigations taken, on the plan to establish a data center in Saudi Arabia.
Amazon Web Services markets and sells Rekognition, its facial recognition system, to U.S. government agencies, and this tool carries significant privacy and human rights implications, and therefore may pose significant financial risks. As human and civil rights organizations have indicated, government use of facial surveillance technology opens risks of civil and human rights violations and of the unfair and disproportionate targeting and surveillance of people of color, immigrants, and other targeted individuals and communities. Appearing to acknowledge these risks, Amazon already issued an indefinite moratorium on use of Rekognition by police departments, but it’s not clear whether that ban includes other government agencies. Furthermore, Amazon also plans to host the HART biometric database for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which poses grave risks to human rights, as Access Now and other civil society organizations have noted in a letter to the company.
Proposal 19 asks that Amazon’s Board of Directors commission an independent study of Rekognition and report to shareholders to examine and demonstrate the extent to which such technology may endanger, threaten, or violate privacy and/or civil rights, and unfairly or disproportionately target or surveil people of color, immigrants, and activists in the U.S. The report should also include the extent to which such technologies may be marketed and sold to authoritarian or repressive governments outside the U.S., including those identified in the U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
Like the proposal directed at Alphabet above, this proposal also calls for a simple and achievable step toward demonstrating its commitment to human rights. Yet, Amazon is recommending shareholders vote against it, even though similar proposals have won increasing shareholder support over the past three years, including a proposal in 2021 that won 34.3% of shareholder votes. It’s time to decide this issue and vote decisively in favor of this proposal in 2022.
Business as usual cannot continue to the detriment of human rights at the biggest tech platforms in the world. We’re asking you, as shareholders, to make your voice heard and use your voting power to keep human rights on the agenda, for the sake of those who rely on the services these platforms provide, and for improvement of the tech sector as a whole.