Employees of the online furniture retailer Wayfair are planning a walkout on Wednesday to protest the company’s sale of more than $200,000 in bedroom furniture to a detention center for migrant children in Texas.
“We don’t want to be profiting off of something that’s putting so many lives at risk and putting children at harm,” said a spokesperson for the employees organizing the action. “We want Wayfair to stand on the right side of history.”
The walkout is scheduled to take place at the company’s Boston headquarters, where over 5,000 of the company’s more than 13,000 employees work.
The action is part of a growing trend of employee activism at major tech companies. In Silicon Valley and beyond, white-collar tech workers have been increasingly crying foul when their employers fail to live up to the values in their high-minded mission statements. In the last year, employees at Google and Riot Games have staged walkouts to protest their companies’ handling of sexual harassment claims and forced arbitration policies, while Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Salesforce have all faced employee protests over those companies’ involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Defense.
The protest at Wayfair began to form on Wednesday morning, when an employee noticed the company had made a large business-to-business sale to the Texas-based contractor BCFS Health and Human Services, which has been in the news for operating child detention facilities with unsanitary conditions and rife with incidents of abuse. With some digging, employees deduced that the order was destined for a new facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which is set to jail up to 3,000 migrant children.
By Friday, a petition had begun to circulate asking Wayfair to cease all current and future business with BCFS and any other contractors participating in the operation of migrant detention camps and to establish a code of ethics for business-to-business transactions. Within hours it had 547 signatures.
The petition cited a U.N. statement that “detention is never in the best interests of the child and always constitutes a child rights violation,” and concluded with a call for the company to live up to its motto, “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 petition said.
On Monday, Wayfair management responded with an internal statement, saying that “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 statement added, “[T]his does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.”
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With the understanding that choosing to deny certain customers service may be in violation of the law, the walkout organizers’ demands have shifted from the ones enumerated in the petition. The request for a code of ethics remains, but organizers are asking that Wayfair, at minimum, donate the $86,000 in profit it earned from the BCFS order to RAICES, a nonprofit that provides legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees in Texas.
“I think there’s a real sentiment of a lack of power in our country right now, and lack of control over what individuals can do,” said the spokesperson for the protesters, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “We saw this as a really specific ask that we as individuals and we as colleagues and stakeholders in this company could put forward to create a small amount of change.”
A Wayfair spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Leaders of the walkout felt emboldened by Wayfair’s culture of feedback, in which employees are encouraged to start open conversations with peers and managers to address concerns, and see the employee actions at companies like Google and Amazon as inspirations, said the spokesperson.
“We’re really lucky that we have a culture and an organization where the leadership team is listening to us,” the spokesperson said. “Even if they aren’t saying what we want to hear, we’re all happy to keep the dialogue going.”