(Washington, DC)––This afternoon, three Muslim and Black activists attending the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Summit were reported by an Amazon employee, asked to leave by security, and escorted out by Metropolitan Police Department. The activists were not given a reason for their ejection. You can watch a video of the exchange here.
At the same time, outside the convention center, For Us Not Amazon, MediaJustice, & the Athena Coalition protested outside Amazon’s annual Amazon Web Services (AWS) Summit against the corporation’s growing surveillance network, racially biased technology, and partnerships with police and military states.
Myaisha Hayes, Campaign Strategies Director at MediaJustice, and one of the activists ejected from the conference today, gave the following statement: “With their aggressive and racist actions, Amazon proved today, again, that its surveillance tactics and collusion with state violence will only continue to hurt our communities if left unchecked. While the Amazon employee that ejected us claimed he ‘does not see color’, it could not be more clear that there is a singular reason Amazon saw us as a security threat. As Black and brown people speaking out against Amazon’s expanding surveillance empire, it is only fitting that we were surveilled by the corporation, with police not far behind to aid and abet their aggressive efforts.”
This protest comes on the heels of a letter the Athena Coalition, Access Now, Immigrant Defense Project, Just Futures Law, and over 35 human rights organizations sent to Amazon Web Services this morning, calling on the company to end its agreement to host the United States Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database. According to a new report from Mijente, Just Futures Law, and the Immigrant Defense Project, DHS intends to use HART to collect vast amounts of biometric data within the U.S. and abroad, including facial recognition, DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and voice prints.
“Amazon’s continued support of HART will directly lead to more deportations and arrests in Black and brown communities. HART can and will be weaponized,” said Paromita Shah, Executive Director of Just Futures Law. “As long as AWS continues to support DHS’ shadowy HART database, our civil rights and our privacy will be under attack.”
This protest adds to mounting pressure that Andy Jassy will face entering his first Annual General Meeting as CEO, which will take place tomorrow, May 25, at 9am PT. Workers, activists, and elected officials have been mobilizing shareholders in past weeks to:
- Stand with workers fighting for better working conditions. Daniel Olayiwola, a warehouse worker in San Antonio, has a floor resolution introduced during the annual meeting that seeks to end the injury and turnover crisis by halting productivity quotas and worker surveillance practices.
- Vote “Yes” to resolutions that challenge injuries, high-turnover, retaliation, and racial disparities at Amazon:
- Item 9, filed by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander
- Item 13, filed by SHARE
- Item 16, filed by Tulipshare
- Item 17, filed by Arjuna Capital
- Vote “Yes” on proposals challenging Amazon’s technology contracts that contribute to human rights abuses, including a $1 billon contract with the Israeli government:
- Item 6, filed by Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood
- Item 19, filed by Harrington Investments
- Support a campaign led by the New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and New York City Comptroller Brad Lander to vote “Against” two members of the Board of Directors who oversee Amazon’s employment practices and workplace safety programs, for their failure to address the crisis described above:
- Director candidate Judith McGrath
- Director candidate Daniel Huttenlocher
“We’re here at today’s summit to disrupt Amazon’s business as usual: powering state violence around the world through contracts like Project Nimbus, a $1.2B contract with the Israeli government and military. Amazon, Andy Jassy, and AWS are doing business with Israeli apartheid and enabling the surveillance, criminalization, and destruction of Palestinian lives through. When executives at tech companies like Amazon put profit over people, it’s our responsibility to fight back. We say enough. That’s why we’re rising up today to demand that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy finally choose to be on the right side of history instead of the side of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and human suffering. From the U.S. to Palestine, we say no more tech for state violence,” said Lau Barrios, Campaign Manager of MPower Change.
During tomorrow’s annual meeting, Daniel Olayiwola, an Amazon fulfillment center worker in Texas, will be the first Amazon warehouse worker to present a resolution during an Amazon annual meeting. Daniel’s presentation represents growing support for Amazon shareholders to deliver accountability. In past weeks, the Athena Coalition and partners have been organizing protest, petitions, and events to raise awareness about the stakes of Amazon’s annual meeting:
- On May 3, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, and the Office of Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs launched a “vote no” campaign to unseat two Amazon board members, specifically citing their failure in duty to address the ongoing worker safety crisis in Amazon warehouses. They were joined by leaders of Amazon Labor Union and state treasurers from Massachusetts, Delaware, and Maine for the announcement.
- On May 4, the Athena Coalition and Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility hosted a roundtable for Amazon shareholders about what is at stake during Amazon CEO Andy Jassy’s first annual general meeting of shareholders. Featured during the call were Daniel Olayiwola, the first Amazon warehouse worker to present a resolution during an Amazon annual meeting; an anonymous Amazon tech worker testifying against Amazon’s support of the Israeli apartheid regime; and New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. You can watch a recording of the roundtable HERE.
- On May 11, leading independent proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis recommended that Amazon shareholders vote against the reappointment of Director Judith McGrath, citing the same concerns raised by Comptroller Lander and other shareholders a week earlier. Over the next two weeks, both Glass Lewis and the other leading proxy advisor Institutional Shareholder Services recommended that shareholders vote down the proposed pay package for CEO Andy Jassy.
- On May 12, the Athena Coalition mailed Amazon Board members and shareholders a report titled, “Monitored: How Amazon Undermines the Safety of Workers and Our Communities”. The report details how Amazon workers have been raising the alarm about unsafe working conditions in Amazon warehouses, where the rates of injury, turnover, and reports of retaliation greatly exceed industry rates, year after year. Accompanying the report was a letter signed by 30 worker, small business, tech accountability, anti monopoly, racial justice, and anti-surveillance groups, urging shareholders to help deliver accountability to Amazon during this AGM.
- On that same day, the Athena Coalition staged a protest in front of Vanguard Group Headquarters in Malvern, PA, blocking the entrance to the building with boxes stating, VANGUARD: It’s time to deliver accountability at AMAZON. The protesters urged Vanguard to call on the firm to help deliver accountability at Amazon during this annual meeting. Vanguard is Amazon’s largest shareholder.
- On May 17, Human Impact Partners, a national public health organization, sent a letter to Amazon board members and shareholders highlighting the shareholder resolutions related to workplace health and safety.
- On May 19, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a report that found that as Amazon has doubled the number of its New York Facilities, injury rates have jumped 65% from 2020 to 2021.
- Also on May 19, The New Jersey Legislature held a Special Assembly Hearing on Amazon injury rates in the state. Amazon is the largest private employer in NJ, and more than 57% of all serious injuries in NJ warehouses are reported from Amazon facilities.
- This morning, the Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability released a report about how Amazon avoids paying taxes while taking in hundreds of millions of tax dollars via public contracts. This report highlights the need for tax transparency, which is a proposal being voted on during the AGM tomorrow.
“For far too long, Amazon has colluded with and emboldened state violence against Black and Brown communities. This is not inevitable as a result of the corporation’s size or any other factors other than the intentional choice to engage in abusive practices at the expense of the safety and security of vulnerable communities. We refuse to let Amazon whitewash their violence and make profits on the backs of workers and other members of our community who have been indelibly harmed by this corporation. Those supporting Amazon also have a choice to make. Silence, after all, is complicity,” stated Dr. Maha Hilal, Executive Director of Muslim Counterpublics Lab.
On the heels of the Annual General Meeting, workers and activists are also organizing the following events:
- On May 25, Amazon workers in Hazelwood, Missouri will march to STL5, an Amazon fulfillment center, to demand a permanent $3/hour raise and regular emergency preparedness drills and additional storm shelters in response to the tornado that destroyed DLI4 in Edwardsville on December 10, taking the lives of six workers.
- On May 26, Newark and Elizabeth residents will gather at the Port Authority’s monthly meeting in Manhattan to tell the Port Authority not to sign any secret deal to build an Amazon air hub at Newark Airport. The Good Jobs Clean Air NJ coalition is pushing back against Amazon’s unsafe jobs and more pollution in already overburdened communities. The coalition has so far staved off the deal, which was originally to be signed in November 2021.
Mizue Aizeki, Director of the Surveillance, Tech and Immigration Policing Project at the Immigrant Defense Project, provided the following statement: “Since 2016, DHS has been building its new massive biometric database, HART, which will be a terrifying tool of mass surveillance and state violence. HART will be hosted on Amazon Web Services, aggregating invasive and racially-biased data on hundreds of millions of people. We have already experienced the widespread harm of DHS policing practices at the border, within the United States, and globally—HART, with Amazon’s support, will only accelerate these harms. There is no reforming HART. If Amazon wants to uphold its commitments to human rights, it must immediately end its hosting and support for HART.”
The Athena coalition is made up of 50+ organizations working together to break the dangerous stranglehold of Amazon over our democracy, economy, and planet.
For Us, Not Amazon is a coalition in Northern Virginia for working people, immigrants, and people of color against an Amazon takeover in Arlington and Virginia.
MediaJustice is building a powerful grassroots movement for a more just and participatory media—fighting for racial, economic, and gender justice in a digital age.