Amazon CEO and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos refused to emerge from backstage at his company’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle on Wednesday as a group of his employees demanded that the online retail giant use its immense power and resources to help confront the global climate crisis.
“Jeff remained off-stage, ignored the employees and would not speak to them. Jeff’s inaction and lack of meaningful response underscore his dismissal of the climate crisis.”
—Amazon Employees for Climate Justice
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), with the support of over 7,000 Amazon workers, proposed a resolution demanding a “company-wide climate plan” to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Shareholders ultimately voted down the resolution, which was opposed by Amazon’s board of directors.
“Jeff remained off-stage, ignored the employees, and would not speak to them,” AECJ said in a statement following the shareholder meeting. “Jeff’s inaction and lack of meaningful response underscore his dismissal of the climate crisis and spoke volumes about how Amazon’s board continues to de-prioritize addressing Amazon’s role in the climate emergency.”
Emily Cunningham, an Amazon employee and AECJ member, called on Bezos to come on stage and listen to his employees’ call for an ambitious climate plan after the resolution failed, but he did not do so.
David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, told Cunningham, “Mr. Bezos will be out later, thank you.”
In Bezos’s absence, Cunningham proceeded to deliver an impassioned speech demanding “bold, rapid action” to avert “catastrophic warming.”
“There’s no issue more important to our customers or our world than the climate crisis, and we are falling far short,” Cunningham said as dozens of Amazon employees rose in support of her message. “Jeff Bezos, can you see children playing who might have drowned? Towns thriving that might have burned? Species swimming that might have been lost, forever?”
“How will we tell our children that we knew we had such a small window to act decisively, to leave fossil fuels in the ground, but instead we helped Shell, BP, and others find and extract oil more quickly?” Cunningham asked. “We can avoid the worst of what’s coming but we have to act. Now.”
Cunningham also invoked Bezos’s obsession with space travel and his aerospace company, Blue Origin, as she implored him to support the resolution.
“Our home, planet earth,” said Cunningham, “not distant far off places in space, desperately needs bold leadership. We have the talent, the passion, the imagination. We have the skill, speed, and resources. Jeff, all we need is your leadership.”
As Gizmodo reported—citing people in attendance—Bezos eventually appeared on stage for a question-and-answer session.
But when asked about steps Amazon is taking to achieve 100 percent renewable energy in all of its operations, the billionaire CEO offered a “boilerplate statement” and deferred the question to sustainability executive Kara Hurst, who declined to answer, according to Gizmodo.
During a press conference following the shareholder meeting, Rajit Iftikhar—software engineer at Amazon and son of Bangladeshi immigrants—said “it’s unacceptable for one of the richest companies in the world to continue to take half-actions as the consequences of its emissions put so many lives of the global poor at risk.”
“While to some, climate change is something we have to worry about in the future,” said Iftikhar, “climate change is having disastrous effects in Bangladesh right now.”