Employees of the Boston-based online housewares giant Wayfair announced Tuesday that they would stage a walkout at the company’s Back Bay offices Wednesday to protest the company’s decision to sell furniture to operators of facilities for migrant children detained at the southern US border.
According to a Wayfair employee who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution, Wayfair employees learned last Wednesday that a $200,000 order of bedroom furniture had been placed by BCFS, a government contractor that has been managing camps at the border.
“We were disheartened and concerned about Wayfair’s business” with BCFS, the employee said, and so employees decided to act. Within hours, a group of 50 employees began drafting a letter to the company’s executive leadership, with included cofounders Niraj Shah, Steve Conine, and the entire board, outlining their concerns. More than 547 employees signed the letter before it was handed off to the leadership team.
“Over the last two days it has come to our attention that Wayfair has again engaged in B2B sales with BCFS, a non-profit government contractor managing camps for migrants at our Southern border,” an excerpt from the letter said.
“This particular order, for over $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture, is destined for Carrizo Springs, Texas, to a facility that will be outfitted to detain up to 3,000 migrant children seeking legal asylum in the United States. The practice of detaining children and adults at our Southern border has been condemned since its inception but since the acceleration of the practice in 2018, and the increase in death and injury that has come with that acceleration, we have seen more vocal condemnation of the practice. We, the undersigned, are writing to you from a place of concern and anger about the atrocities being committed at our Southern border.”
In the letter the employees asked the company to cease all current and future business with BCFS and other contractors and requested that the company establish a code of ethics for business-to-business sales that allows “Wayfair employees to act in accordance with our values.”
“We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of,” the letter stated. “At Wayfair, we believe that ‘everyone should live in a home that they love.’ 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.”
The group sent it to the executives Friday and received a response from Wayfair’s executive leadership team Monday evening at 6 p.m.
In that unsigned letter, the executives said they appreciated the employee’s effort to bring the issue to their attention. But as business leaders, they said, “we also believe in the importance of respecting diversity of thought within our organization and across our customer base.”
“As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers and we believ e it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate,” the executives’ letter continued. “We believe all of our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors, and suppliers included are best served by our commitment to fulfill our orders.”
Wayfair confirmed that a letter was sent in response to the employee’s concerns, but declined to speak further.
In the wake of the response, a Twitter account promoting the @wayfairwalkout quickly gained more than 1,700 followers, and customers of the brand began expressing their frustration online. Employees are planning to walk out of their offices, which are on Copley Square and Boylston Street, Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. They are asking the company to donate the proceeds from the sale of the furniture to rescue organizations at the border.
“We’re disheartened given what we know is happening at the Southern border that there wasn’t a larger reaction,” the employee said of the executive response. “I know them all to be empathetic and we’ve seen that in other ways. We are a coalition of employees and we were hoping for something that spoke more to our values.”
Here’s how some notable figures were reacting to the news:
Wayfair workers couldn’t stomach they were making beds to cage children.
They asked the company to stop. CEO said no.
Tomorrow, they‘re walking out.
This is what solidarity looks like – a reminder that everyday people have real power, as long as we’re brave enough to use it. https://t.co/667abeLDTG
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 25, 2019
We must actively #resist any & all efforts by this cruel, incompetent administration to cage children and separate families. I proudly stand in solidarity w/ the hardworking individuals at #Wayfair who are walking out in the name of #justice & humanity. https://t.co/UFvCZNGeTJ
— Rep Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) June 25, 2019
Here’s the deal with the @Wayfair walk out. They absolutely do NOT have to be the company that supplies the prison camps. These are privately owned camps that are for profit. Your elected officials cannot even get in there to see them! This CEO? 👎. Pls follow @wayfairwalkout pic.twitter.com/mYN9IQKTxU
— Kathy Griffin (@kathygriffin) June 25, 2019