A group of workers at the ecommerce company Wayfair staged a walkout in Boston Wednesday afternoon, to protest the company’s sale of furniture to a government contractor that manages detention centers amid an ongoing humanitarian crisis at the southern border.
The walkout is taking place in Copley Square, near Wayfair’s headquarters. The sale that sparked the protest was discovered by employees last week: an order for $200,000 worth of beds and other furniture reportedly placed by government contractor BCFS for a new detention center in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Wayfair also sold furniture to a second BCFS facility in Tornillo, Texas, according to The Washington Post. It was closed in January after a government watchdog raised safety concerns, including a lack of adequate staff background checks.
Around 550 Wayfair employees signed onto a letter that was sent to executives Friday, asking the company to halt all current and future business with BCFS, as well as other contractors who may be operating migrant detention camps at the southern border. It demanded the company establish a code of ethics for business sales that “empowers Wayfair and its employees to act in accordance with our core values.” The employees later also asked the company to donate profits from the sales to RAICES, a nonprofit that provides legal services to immigrants and refugees.
“We love Wayfair & working there. We don’t want to smear the CEOs. We just want to be able to feel proud of the work we do there,” organizers behind the official @wayfairwalkout Twitter account said in a direct message.
In a letter sent Monday that @wayfairwalkout confirmed was authentic, leadership indicated the $200,000 sale wouldn’t be cancelled. “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,” it read in part. “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 we operate.” Wayfair did not immediately return a request for comment.
The walkout comes as outrage has mounted in recent days over the treatment of children at one Border Patrol detention facility in Clint, Texas, where Human Rights Watch researchers described conditions as “devastating and abusive.” Lawyers said the children hadn’t bathed, suffered from flu and lice outbreaks, and were forced to care for one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Several hundred children were moved out of the facility, but 100 of them were then brought back Tuesday. It’s not clear how long they may remain.
Wayfair’s protest is part of a growing political awakening among some tech employees who want more answers about how the products they build are used. Over the past year, workers at Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon have each protested their employer’s decision to work with the US military or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. And as The Atlantic notes, this isn’t the first time Wayfair has entered the political fray. Last year, the company pulled its advertisements from Laura Ingraham’s talk show after she insulted David Hogg, a high school student who survived a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“Our action here comes from a moral and ethical obligation,” a Wayfair employee wrote in an anonymous op-ed published on Vice. “We’re trying not to frame this as left or right, or who did you vote for, but that we live in a point of history where small decisions can make a big impact.”
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both expressed support for the walkout Tuesday. “The safety and well-being of immigrant children is always worth fighting for,” Warren wrote in a tweet.
This is a developing story.