Employees of the online retailer Wayfair walked out of their offices Wednesday afternoon in protest of the company selling furniture to migrant detention facilities. Wayfair employees learned last week that an order for about $200,000 of bedroom furniture was placed by BCFS, a government contractor, that manages the migrant facilities for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The contractor will soon open a new facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas which will accommodate about 1,600 minors and is the destination for the furniture.
- By Wednesday morning, the supportive Twitter account @wayfairwalkout had gained more than 20,000 followers. If you were Wayfair’s CEO, how would you address employees’ concerns about doing business with controversial, migrant detention centers?
- Should political concerns have an effect on business decisions? Will Wayfair’s position make it harder to attract and retain talented employees?
- Last year, employees at Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon all protested business contracts with government agencies. None of these companies have decided to change course despite the public employee protests. Will Wayfair be different?
- The employees’ letter to Wayfair management said they, “want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting, or profiting from this practice.”
- The politically motivated action is taking place at one of Boston’s fastest-growing companies, which employs more than 14,000 people globally and processes 100,000 orders a day. It took in revenue of $6.8 billion in 2018.
- BCFS is a global network of nonprofit groups focused on disaster relief and international aid. After the Trump administration said it would restrict or cancel educational and recreational activities for children in shelters because of financial constraints, BCFS said it would not do that and would use reserve funds to continue providing the activities.
The walkout was planned after more than 500 employees signed a letter to the company’s leadership asking that Wayfair stop all business with BCFS, and others involved in operating such facilities and that it establish a code of ethics for sales, according to an employee involved in organizing the protest.
This action comes as conditions in overcrowded shelters for migrant children are coming under new scrutiny and becoming a focus of debate over President Trump’s immigration policies, amid reports of children and teenagers being denied access to showers, clean clothing and sufficient food. The new facility in Carrizo Springs is being opened amid a surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border to escape poverty and violence in their home countries, mainly in Central America.
Wayfair’s leadership responded with its own letter defending the contact and saying it would not discriminate among customers who were operating within the law. “No matter how strongly any one of us feels about an issue, it is important to keep in mind that not all employees or customers agree,” the response said. “Your fellow employees hold a wide range of opinions and perspectives and Wayfair, as a mass-market brand, is oriented to serve a broad and diverse customer base.”
On its website, under “Our Promise,” the company says, “Wayfair believes everyone should live in a home that they love.” In their letter, the employees cited that line, saying, “Let’s stay true to that message by taking a stand against the reprehensible practice of separating families, which denies them any home at all.”
News of the planned walkout was supported by some Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who both tweeted about it on Twitter.