Google's Troubles Encroach on Alphabet's Shareholder Meeting

WIRED | 6/20/2019 | Nitasha Tiku
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Alphabet, Google’s parent company, faced an onslaught of 14 independent shareholder proposals during its annual meeting on Wednesday, most criticizing the concentration of power in the hands of a few executives and all demanding some kind of structural change to make the company more accountable—to workers, shareholders, Chinese dissidents, or prospective neighbors of Google’s planned campus in San Jose.

The accountability theme was striking, across issues ranging from seeking a human rights assessment of Google’s work in China to clawing back compensation from executives who have sexually harassed employees.

Shareholders - Concerns - Company - Cofounders - Larry

Underscoring shareholders’ concerns, the company’s cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, were both no-shows and Google CEO Sundar Pichai didn’t answer any questions. All the proposals failed after a few minutes of ceremonial voting, an expected outcome given that Alphabet’s board recommended votes against each and that Page and Brin control 51 percent of the company’s voting power, despite owning 13 percent of its stock.

“We believe [Google’s] size and complexity [is] unmanageable,” said a representative from Sum of Us, an advocacy group of consumers, workers, and investors that cited human rights concerns in China as one reason Alphabet should hire independent advisers to evaluate restructuring the company. Alphabet operates “essentially as a dictatorship,” said a shareholder representative criticizing the extra voting power of shares held by Page and Brin.

Year - Meeting - Escalation - Employee - Activism

This year’s meeting reflected an appreciable escalation in employee activism from 2018. Last year, Google engineer Irene Knapp introduced a proposal to tie executive compensation to progress on diversity. This year, three proposals were introduced by Alphabet employees, regarding human rights in China around Google’s proposed censored search app; mandatory arbitration and the use of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment claims; and tying executive pay to environmental sustainability and racial and gender diversity; the latter was introduced by Knapp.

Other Google employees addressed executives during the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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