(James Rojas/WBZ NewsRadio)
BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Workers staged a walkout from Wayfair’s Back Bay headquarters Wednesday to protest the company’s decision to sell furniture to operators of border facilities for migrant children.
Here's how things got to this point.
In recent weeks, new reports have detailed the conditions inside the facilities built to house migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Lawyers who visited one facility said that child detainees did not have adequate food, water, sanitation, or shelter, according to an Associated Press story published last Thursday.
"The attorneys who recently visited the facility near El Paso told The Associated Press that three girls, ages 10 to 15, said they had been taking turns watching over a sick 2-year-old boy because there was no one else to look after him," the story read. "When the lawyers saw the boy, he wasn’t wearing a diaper and had wet his pants, and his shirt was smeared in mucus. They said at least 15 children at the facility had the flu, and some were kept in medical quarantine."
The Wayfair walkout unfolded as the public and media reacted to this and several other similar stories from the border.
Wayfair employees discovered recently that the company was doing business with BCFS, a nonprofit that manages child detention facilities like the one described above.
According to a letter from employees to company management, Wayfair fulfilled an order for over $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to a BCFS-run Carrizo Springs, Texas facility that is set up to detain about 3,000 child migrants.
Employees also claim it isn't the first time the company has done business with BCFS—they point to a September 2018 order for furniture at a Tornillo, Texas camp housing over 2,500 minors. The letter notes the Tornillo facility was cited for not properly background-checking employees.
"Concerns about this were surfaced to leadership but no action was taken," the letter read.
Employees vented their frustration with the company's decision to facilitate the order.
"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," the letter read. "We, the undersigned, are writing to you from a place of concern and anger about the atrocities being committed at our Southern border.”
That letter was signed by more than 500 employees of the online furniture retailer.
“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 added.
Here is the full letter, as posted by Twitter user @sun_diaz:
The Company Response
In an unsigned response to the employee letter, Wayfair management addressed their decision to fulfill the order.
“As a retailer, 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 response read. “We believe all of our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors, and suppliers included are best served by our commitment to fulfill our orders.”
The company's response was shared widely across social media:
The Public Response
As word of the exchange between employees and management spread, Wayfair received criticism from users on Twitter.
An account called @wayfairwalkout began posting about a proposed walkout by employees, and detailing the exchange between management and employees.
As news of the walkout grew, it gained the attention and support of prominent politicians, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The @wayfairwalkout account stated employees' demands in the petition and walkout as twofold:
- For Wayfair to cease all current and future business with contractors participating in operation of migrant detention camps.
- For Wayfair to establish a code of ethics for business-to-business sales that empowers employees to act in accordance with Wayfair's core values.
The employees have been told they will not face any sort of retaliation for taking part in the walkout.
...But Wait, Are They Saying They Don't Want Migrant Children To Have Beds?
Some online criticized those supporting the walkout, wondering why anyone concerned about conditions at the facilities would be angry about a business supplying beds the facilities desperately need.
The @wayfairwalkout account addressed that criticism, clarifying that it isn't the beds they're against—its the fact that their employer is profiting from the detention of children.
Has The Company Changed Their Mind?
In response to the public outcry, the company said they would be donating $100,000 to the Red Cross.
But some activists say that isn't enough.