Wayfair employees in Boston walked off the job Wednesday afternoon to take a stand against furniture sales the company made to two US government detention centers in Texas that are holding child migrants.
Hundreds of workers at the home goods e-commerce company flooded out into Copley Square where they were greeted by a cheering crowd waiting for the employees to kick off the protest.
Tom Brown, an engineer at Boston-based Wayfair (NYSE: W) who joined the walkout, says the issue of doing business with the detention camps became a flashpoint for employees when they learned last week of the most recent sale of goods.
“It isn’t a political situation; it’s a humanitarian situation,” Brown says. “There’s more to life than profit. When we see an injustice like this, we are going to do something.”
At the center of the workers’ action are a pair of orders made to Wayfair by BCFS, a government contractor running child migrant detention centers on the US southern border—one in September 2018 and another more recently, according a letter to company leadership drafted and signed by hundreds of Wayfair employees.
The letter cites a sale of more than $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to a detention center in Carrizo Springs, TX. Employees, who say they learned about the sale last week, wrote that contractors running the centers are mistreating thousands of migrants legally seeking asylum in the US.
“We want that to end,” the employees wrote in a letter sent June 21. “We also want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting, or profiting from this practice.”
The letter adds that Wayfair in September 2018 outfitted a BCFS camp in Tornillo, TX, which housed over 2,500 minors. Employees raised concerns then too, but no action was taken, according to the letter. The Tornillo camp was closed in January because of safety and health concerns, according to The Washington Post.
“We believe that the current action 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 employees write.
Employees want Wayfair to stop doing business with BCFS and other contractors running the detention centers and establish a code of ethics that would govern how Wayfair would handle any similar situations in the future.
In a response letter sent Monday to employees, company leadership thanked the employees for the frank concerns, but on the issue of the sales, it indicated Wayfair would continue to do business with the centers. The letter was unsigned. Wayfair is run by its founders, CEO Niraj Shah and chief technology officer Steve Conine.
“It is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers and we believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries, within which we operate,” the letter from leadership says. “We believe all our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors and suppliers included, are best served by our commitment to fulfill all orders.”
The letter from Wayfair adds: “This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.”
Employees responded with plans for the walkout on Wednesday, along with an additional request that all profits from the sales be donated to the nonprofit RAICES, which offers legal aid to immigrants and refugees. The group of employees pegs the profits from the sales at $86,000, according to the Twitter user wayfairwalkout, which is organizing the protest. Wayfair has not responded to requests for comment from Xconomy.
Organizers of the walkout told Xconomy that Wayfair agreed to donate $100,000 to the Red Cross, but the gesture stills fall short of what they want.
“Great,” says Madeline Howard, a product manager at Wayfair. “It’s not what we asked for.”
Echoes of the protest rang to Washington, DC, and the campaign trail for the Democratic presidential primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders backed the workers in a statement: “We cannot be a nation that stands for locking up little children. What these workers are doing is brave and necessary.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren—currently visiting a migrant facility in McAllen, TX—added Tuesday: “I stand with the hundreds of Wayfair employees who are planning to stage a walkout at their Boston headquarters tomorrow. The safety and well being of immigrant children is always worth fighting for.”
Wayfair, founded in 2002 as CSN Stores, has yet to turn a profit since its IPO in 2014; the company says it lost $200 million in the first three months of 2019 on $1.9 billion in revenue.