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USA: Investors file resolutions with companies at risk for human rights violations due to govt. contracts related to immigration

In December 2018, investor members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility launched a corporate campaign focused on a group of six companies across the private prison, e-commerce, banking and defense sectors, deemed at risk for human rights violations as a result of government contracts that support President Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies. Investors have filed shareholder resolutions at the following companies:

Private Prisons

  • CoreCivic (allegations of forced labor and failure to provide medical assistance to detainees)
  • GEO Group (issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care)
  • We invited CoreCivic to respond; response provided
  • We invited GEO Group to respond; it did not
  • We previously invited CoreCivic and GEO Group to respond to allegations that they were profiting from the detention of immigrant and asylum-seeking families and the separation of families at the US-Mexico border. More information and responses from both companies are available here.

Technology

  • Amazon (sale of facial recognition technology to government agencies including ICE and state law enforcement) 
  • We invited Amazon to respond; response provided. More information about allegations related to its facial recognition technology is available here.

Financial Services

  • SunTrust (funding for MVM, Inc. and Comprehensive Health Services, which are directly contracted with U.S. government agencies carrying out the “zero tolerance” immigration policy)
  • Wells Fargo (providing revolving credit and term loans to GEO; letters of credit on CoreCivic’s behalf; and underwriting bonds for both GEO and CoreCivic) 
  • We invited SunTrust to respond; it did not
  • We invited Wells Fargo to respond; response provided (Update: In March 2019, Wells Fargo announced that it would end its relationship with GEO Group and CoreCivic.)
  • We previously invited SunTrust and Wells Fargo to respond to allegations that bank and investor financing for CoreCivic & GEO Group supports these two companies to profit from the Trump Administration's harsh immigration policies. Wells Fargo responded, SunTrust declined to respond. More information is available here.
  • We previously invited MVM, Inc. and Comprehensive Heath Services to respond to allegations of profiting from the detention of immigrant and asylum-seeking families. Both companies responses. More information is available here.

Defense Contractor

  • Northrop Grumman (racial bias, privacy and surveillance via Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) database developed for the Department of Homeland Security)
  • We invited Northrop Grumman to respond; response provided
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Article
12 June 2020

Amazon halts police use of Rekognition; Access Now calls for creation of human rights team at the company

Author: Access Now

Amazon announced Wednesday that it would place a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, Rekognition. The brief statement comes just two days after IBM announced in a letter to Congress that it would no longer offer general purpose facial recognition software... “The move by Amazon, as sudden as it appears, comes after years of pressure by civil society groups, investors, and other advocates calling on the company to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement,” said Isedua Oribhabor, U.S. Policy Analyst at Access Now... During Amazon’s Annual General Meeting on May 27, shareholders voted on multiple proposals relating to Rekognition and other surveillance technology the company produces. Though the shareholder proposals did not pass, this move indicates that Amazon is responding to the concerns of its shareholders and of civil society... “Hitting the pause button is a small step in the right direction, but is not enough,” said Oribhabor. “At a minimum, Amazon must create a cross-functional human rights team and perform human rights impact assessments to truly evaluate the effects that its tech products have on... human rights.

... “Although strong regulation and safeguards can mitigate certain harms, we need to accept that certain uses of technology, such as biometric recognition systems that enable mass surveillance, are so incompatible with the protection of fundamental rights that these systems simply should not be used,” said Daniel Leufer, Mozilla Fellow at Access Now... Facial recognition and other surveillance software pose serious risks for human rights including freedom of assembly and privacy, some of which can be mitigated only by comprehensive and robust privacy and data protection laws in the United States.

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Article
12 June 2020

Amazon implements a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition technology & supports federal regulation in the US

Author: Bobby Allyn, NPR

"Amazon halts police use of its facial recognition technology," 

Amazon announced on Wednesday a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial-recognition technology, yielding to pressure from police-reform advocates and civil rights groups... Microsoft President Brad Smith told The Washington Post during a livestream Thursday morning that his company has not been selling its technology to law enforcement. Smith said he has no plans to until there is a national law.

... Congressional Democrats are seeking to regulate the technology in sweeping police reform legislation... [t]he proposed bill would limit how much federal law enforcement officials could use facial recognition technology, including a ban on using the software with police body-worn cameras... Amazon officials say the company supports federal regulation for its algorithm-driven facial recognition software, known as Rekognition. "We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested," the company said in a statement.

... Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties director with the ACLU of Northern California, said a blanket ban on the technology is needed, but she welcomed Amazon's one-year pause, saying it shows that the company is "finally recognizing the dangers face recognition poses to black and brown communities and civil rights more broadly."... "Face recognition technology gives governments the unprecedented power to spy on us wherever we go. It fuels police abuse. This surveillance technology must be stopped."

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Article
10 July 2019

SunTrust is latest bank to halt financing of private prisons

Author: Lanahn Nguyen, Bloomberg

SunTrust Banks Inc., the lender merging with BB&T Corp., said it won’t provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities. “This decision was made after extensive consideration of the views of our stakeholders on this deeply complex issue,” the Atlanta-based bank said... SunTrust’s decision follows similar moves by Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

... Shares of the two biggest for-profit prison companies, Geo Group Inc. and CoreCivic Inc., have fallen more than 13% since mid-June... “This decision is about caving to political pressure,” Amanda Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic, said in an emailed statement. “These banks have kowtowed to a small group of activists rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”... Geo Group said in a statement. The company “has never managed any facilities that house unaccompanied minors, nor have we ever managed border patrol holding facilities.”

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Article
26 June 2019

USA: Bank of America will stop lending to private-prison firms

Author: Lananh Nguyen, Bloomberg

Bank of America Corp., the second-biggest U.S. bank, will stop lending to companies that run private prisons and detention centers. “We have decided to exit the relationship’’ with companies that provide prison and immigration-detention services, Vice Chairman Anne Finucane said... The move followed a review by the bank’s environmental, social and governance... committee, which included site visits and consultation with clients, civil rights leaders, criminal justice experts and academics... The company will stop its activities in the industry as soon as it can, while meeting contractual obligations.

Shares of two of the largest private-prison companies, GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic Inc., fell... Wednesday. Steve Owen, a CoreCivic spokesman, said Bank of America misrepresented the company and based its decision on politics. “We care deeply about doing business in an ethical, responsible way,” he said in an emailed statement... JPMorgan Chase & Co. took a similar step in March, breaking off its relationship with the industry after deciding it was too risky, and Wells Fargo & Co. is also halting loans to the industry... Protesters have been urging bank executives to back away from the business... While the companies run centers on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they’ve said they don’t operate facilities that house unaccompanied minors. 

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Article
22 May 2019

Shareholders vote against proposals seeking to halt Amazon's sale of its facial recognition technology to govt. agencies

Author: Leo Kelion, BBC News

"Amazon heads off facial recognition rebellion" 22 May 2019

Shareholders seeking to halt Amazon's sale of its facial recognition technology to US police forces have been defeated in two votes that sought to pressure the company into a rethink. Civil rights campaigners had said it was "perhaps the most dangerous surveillance technology ever developed". But investors rejected the proposals at the company's annual general meeting...The first vote had proposed that the company should stop offering its Rekognition system to government agencies. The second had called on it to commission an independent study into whether the tech threatened people's civil rights...Amazon has yet to comment...It said that Rekognition had a 0% error rate at classifying lighter-skinned males as such within a test, but a 31.4% error rate at categorising darker-skinned females. Amazon has disputed the findings saying that the researchers had used "an outdated version" of its tool and that its own checks had found "no difference" in gender-classification across ethnicities... opposition to Rekognition has also been voiced by civil liberties groups and hundreds of Amazon's own workers...But one of the directors from Amazon Web Services - the division responsible - had told the BBC that it should be up to politicians to decide if restrictions should be put in place.

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Article
21 May 2019

Amazon faces investor pressure over facial recognition

Author: Natasha Singer, The New York Times

Facial recognition software is coming under increasing scrutiny from civil liberties groups and lawmakers... [Amazon] [s]hareholders have introduced two proposals on facial recognition for a vote. One asks the company to prohibit sales of its facial recognition system, called Amazon Rekognition, to government agencies, unless its board concludes that the technology does not facilitate human rights violations. The other asks the company to commission an independent report examining the extent to which Rekognition may threaten civil, human and privacy rights, and the company’s finances... The proposals are nonbinding, meaning they do not require the company to take action, even if they receive a majority vote. 

... The Amazon shareholder proposals also highlight the rise of activism among investors in the country’s top tech companies. Last year, investors successfully pressured Apple to create stronger parental controls for iPhones... In the coming weeks, shareholders of FacebookTwitter and Alphabet will vote on issues related to election interference, hate speech, disinformation and creating censored services for China... In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission... [Amazon] said that it was not aware of any reported misuse of Rekognition by law enforcement customers. It also argued that the technology did not present a financial risk... “The proposals raise only conjecture and speculation about possible risks that might arise” from clients misusing the technology, lawyers for Amazon wrote in the letter. 

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Article
29 April 2019

Shareholders to present slate of proposals at Amazon annual meeting focused on human rights & environmental issues

Author: Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility

"Shareholders to present slate of proposals at Amazon annual meeting," 25 April 2019

[I]nvestors... announced that they will have a total of nine proposals on the proxy ballot at Amazon’s... annual meeting... on a variety of environmental, social and governance concerns.... Jared Fernandez of Green Century Capital Management [said]... “While Amazon is now neck-and-neck with Apple as the most valuable public company in the world, its lack of attention to a number of broad environmental, social and governance risks poses legitimate questions about the continued success and resiliency of the company.” 

...investors say the resolutions provide ample evidence that Amazon does not have the appropriate risk mitigation structures in place... One of the concerns articulated in the group of proposals relates to the risks of human/civil rights abuses resulting from the sale of Rekognition, Amazon’s facial recognition technology, as well as the company’s failure to appropriately monitor the sale of offensive, racist products through its e-commerce platform... Investors sent a joint letter to Amazon in November 2018 which underscored concerns and requested meaningful dialogue with management. The letter was endorsed by 114 investors representing over $2.6 trillion in AUM... the letter stated: "In our experience, Amazon has purposefully avoided constructive and substantive dialogue with its shareholders, often necessitating the filing of shareholder resolutions..." Also striking was Amazon’s decision to petition the SEC to omit many of the proposals from its proxy.

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Article
4 April 2019

A win for shareholders in effort to halt sales of Amazon's allegedly racially biased surveillance technology

Author: Open MIC

"A win for shareholders in effort to halt sales of Amazon's racially biased surveillance technology," 

[T]he Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled late yesterday that Amazon must give shareholders an opportunity to consider and vote on two separate shareholder resolutions that address major business risks posed by the sale of Amazon's facial recognition technology to government agencies. The SEC’s ruling comes amidst mounting criticism of the Amazon technology, “Rekognition,” as racially biased... The two shareholder resolutions, which were filed with Amazon in December, focus on the business risks to the company from sales of Rekognition. One resolution asks Amazon to halt sales of Rekognition to government unless the board “concludes the technology does not pose actual or potential civil and human rights risk;” the other resolution requests the board commission an independent study of Rekognition regarding the extent to which the technology may “endanger, threaten, or violate” privacy or civil rights. The SEC’s decision means the shareholder resolutions will be voted on at the Company’s annual meeting... The shareholder resolution echoes concerns of over 70 civil rights and civil liberties groups, hundreds of Amazon’s own employees, and 150,000 people who signed a petition — all seeking to end sales of Rekognition to government agencies.

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Article
6 March 2019

USA: JPMorgan Chase to stop financing private operators of prisons & detention centers

Author: David Henry & Imani Moise, Reuters

"JPMorgan backs away from private prison finance," 5 March 2019

JPMorgan Chase & Co has decided to stop financing private operators of prisons and detention centers, which have become targets of protests over Trump administration immigration policies. “We will no longer bank the private prison industry,” a company spokesman told Reuters. The decision is a result of the bank’s ongoing evaluations of the costs and benefits of serving different industries, he said... JPMorgan’s move away from the industry comes after activists have challenged Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon at the bank’s last two annual meetings over its financing of prison companies... Wells Fargo said in January it was reducing its relationship with the prison industry as part of its “environmental and social risk management” process.

... CoreCivic spokesman Steven Owen called JPMorgan’s decision “disappointing.” He said in an email that “decisions like this are being based on false information spread by politically motivated special interests, who completely mischaracterize our company.”... A GEO Group spokesman said in an email that the company “has never managed facilities that house unaccompanied minors.” He added, “We welcome the opportunity to have an open dialogue with all financial institutions to address the common mischaracterizations of our company’s role and record as a government services provider.” [also refers to Bank of America, BlackRock, Citigroup]

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