Amazon could be forced to disclose its plastic footprint

E-commerce giant Amazon's shareholders will vote this week on whether the firm should adopt a resolution requiring it to disclose how much plastic packaging it produces - and how much of this is likely to end up polluting the environment.

Amazon could be forced to disclose its plastic footprint

Image: Amazon

The resolution is being spearheaded by As You Sow – an activist shareholder group perhaps best known for its work in pressing fossil fuel firms and other heavy emitters to disclose and reduce their emissions. If adopted, Amazon will be required to produce a report by the end of 2021 detailing how much plastic packaging it produces directly, and how much extra is attributable to its business activities.

To this latter point, Amazon has more than 12 million products listed at any given time and more than half are listed by third-party sellers.

Amazon would also be required to outline what actions it has already taken to reduce plastic waste if the resolution is adopted.

In a notice issued ahead of the meeting on Wednesday, Amazon encourages shareholders not to support the resolution. It has told shareholders and media representatives that it has cut the weight of outbound packaging by one-third since 2015, a move that has prevented one million tonnes of plastics packaging from entering circulation.

However, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a proxy advisory firm, has encouraged Amazon shareholders to support the proposal. As You Sow now expects the proposal to secure up to 30% of the vote and has stated that, if the resolution does not pass, it will continue to push Amazon and other major retailers for more action on plastics.

As You Sow’s senior vice-president Conrad MacKerron said: “The ISS recommendation is huge and very influential. A lot of investors rely on these recommendations because they don’t have time to read all of the arguments and all of the proxies. We will have a very healthy vote on Wednesday.”

Growing scrutiny

The shareholder resolution has been filed after a report in 2020, from conservation group Oceana, claimed that Amazon had generated 210,000 tonnes of plastic packaging that was not likely to have been reused or recycled in 2019.

Particular scrutiny was aimed at ‘air pillows’ that are used to cushion products inside cardboard boxes.

Amazon said it had actually produced around one-quarter of this amount of plastics and claimed that Oceana was underestimating reuse and recycling rates.

This assertion, groups like As You Sow have claimed, prove that Amazon is in a position to disclose its plastics footprint in terms of data.

A surge in shareholder votes

This AGM season has proven a busy time for sustainability-related resolutions.

Last week, ExxonMobil saw two climate activists from Engine No. 1 appointed to the board after a shareholder vote. Also, Chevron shareholders passed a proposal for stronger carbon targets, filed by Dutch campaign group Follow This, and HSBC shareholders voted for the bank to end financing for the coal sector globally.

The news came after As You Sow saw a resolution filed at DuPont for a vote in early May, which commits the business to disclose more information on plastic production and pollution, pass with a record 81% of the vote.

Not all shareholders have been this progressive. Climate-related resolutions ultimately failed to pass this season at firms including BP and Barclays.

Sarah George

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