SEATTLE — Employees at big tech companies have pushed back against their employers for working with the military and law enforcement offices, and demanded better treatment of women and minorities.
Now, thousands of them are also taking on climate change.
This week, more than 3,500 Amazon employees called on the company to rethink how it addresses and contributes to a warming planet. The action is the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry.
The workers say the company needs to make firm commitments to reduce its carbon footprint across its vast operations, not make piecemeal or vague announcements. And they say that Amazon should stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels.
The goal for Amazon’s leaders and employees is “that climate change is something they think about whenever a business decision is being made,” said Rajit Iftikhar, a software engineer in Amazon’s retail business. “We want to make Amazon a better company. It is a natural extension of that.”
The letter adds support for a new tactic among activist tech workers: using the stock they receive as compensation to agitate for change.
Like other shareholders, they can file a resolution urging a particular corporate change that investors vote on at a company’s annual meeting. Historically, this approach has been used by outside activist investors, not as leverage by employees.
The Amazon employees signing the letter, who made their names public, are pushing Amazon to approve a shareholder resolution that would force the company to develop a plan to address its carbon footprint. The resolution was filed by more than two dozen current and former employees late last year, and it could come up for a vote next month.
It is rare for tech employees, even some of the most activist ones, to release their names publicly criticizing their employers. While thousands walked out at Google over the company’s handling of sexual harassment claims, for example, few names were connected to the effort.
“It’s exactly what Amazon has taught me to be: bold, audacious, and tackle big problems,” said Maren Costa, a principal user-experience designer who has been with the company for almost 15 years.
Amazon has more than 65,000 corporate and tech employees working in the United States. More people signed the letter than Amazon has employed at any of its individual U.S. offices outside of Seattle and the Bay Area.
Amazon spokesman Sam Kennedy did not comment directly on the letter but said the company is addressing climate change in many ways. “Earlier this year, we announced that we will share our companywide carbon footprint, along with related goals and programs,” he said in a statement. “We also announced Shipment Zero, our vision to make all Amazon shipments net-zero carbon, with 50 percent of all shipments net zero by 2030.”
More than its other tech peers, Amazon is particularly vulnerable to criticism about its carbon footprint. It ships millions of items large and small. The data centers that run its cloud operations need power to stay cool, and its cloud offerings and artificial intelligence put it in touch with customers in big businesses, including the energy industry.