Popular online furniture and home goods store Wayfair has found itself in the middle of the politically charged fight over illegal immigration and the treatment of children detained at the U.S. border.
Hundreds of employees of the Boston-headquartered merchant are reportedly planning to walk out of work tomorrow, Wednesday, June 26, in protest after learning that Wayfair received an order for $200,000 worth of furniture from BCFS, a contractor for the U.S. government that manages detention facilities along the southern U.S. border for migrants, including facilities housing children separated from their parents or other adults.
News of the walkout began trending nationally on the social network Twitter on Tuesday after an online account using the handle @wayfairwalkout began tweeting about the situation.
According to the account’s tweets, Wayfair supplied beds for border camps. In response, 547 employees signed a letter asking the company to stop providing supplies for the camps, and when company leaders refused a walkout was scheduled for Wednesday.
A letter purporting to be from Wayfair employees that was widely circulating on Twitter Tuesday — and which was shared by @wayfairwalkout — further alleged that the company supplied $200,000 worth of bedding to a BCFS facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that “will be outfitted to detain up to 3,000 migrant children,” according to the letter.
The letter demands that Wayfair cease working with the non-profit and establish a code of ethics for business-to-business sales, and concludes with the statement: “We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership that Wayfair should chose to be a part of.”
Though a number of unanswered questions remained, the Boston Globe independently obtained a copy of the letter and spoke with an anonymous Wayfair employee about the situation. The employee reportedly said that staffers learned last week that Wayfair’s products were going to camps along the border. They then quickly began drafting the letter to company management asking for an end to the practice.
Wayfair is based on Boston and has offices in the city’s tony Back Bay neighborhood. The walkout is planned for 1:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday, according to a tweet from the @wayfairwalkout account:
— wayfairwalkout (@wayfairwalkout) June 25, 2019
According to the @wayfairwalkout Twitter account, employees also want the company to donate the money it made on goods for border camps to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a legal services organization that works with immigrants.
The Globe additionally obtained a letter that reportedly came from Wayfair executives in response to the situation. The letter thanks employees for sharing their thoughts on the issue. But it also stresses the “importance of respecting diversity of thought,” and does not indicate the company will make changes to its business practices.
“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 letter continues.
However, Inman could not independently verify the authenticity of the letter or confirm who was running the @wayfairwalkout account. Inman reached out to the account via a direct message on Twitter, and was advised to contact organizers via a Gmail address. However, as of the time that this story was published, Inman had not received a response to an inquiry sent to that address.
Wayfair also did not respond to Inman’s request for comment Tuesday.
Wayfair was founded in 2002 and has since grown into an online retail giant. The company offers a multitude of home furnishing products from thousands of suppliers and operates in both North America and Europe. The company has over 12,000 employees, according to Fortune magazine’s website.
Earlier this year, Wayfair partnered on an interior design service with Vacasa, a buzzy vacation rental startup. Vacasa has recently grown to become the largest vacation rental management company in North America.
In an email Tuesday, a Vacasa spokesperson told Inman that the company was not previously aware of Wayfair’s border-related business and has “no involvement or connection with” the Wayfair’s activity.
The Trump administration’s border policy has long been controversial and exploded onto front page headlines last year thanks to a policy that separated migrant children from their families.
More recently, rising Democratic Party star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the migrant holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border as “concentration camps,” setting off a polarizing public debate over whether or not that term was accurate.
Finally, recent days have seen new reports of deteriorating conditions at the camps, prompting further outrage.
It was in that context that the Wayfair employee walkout began gaining traction Tuesday, and eventually prompted numerous calls from consumers to boycott the company:
So @Wayfair is furnishing the concentration camps at the border. Not only should we boycott them and publicly shame them for participating in this atrocity – we should find out WHO ELSE IS PROFITING FROM THE TORTURE OF THESE CHILDREN
— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) June 25, 2019
— Robyn Greene (@Robyn_Greene) June 25, 2019
We just bought a new home and had been looking at Wayfair to purchase items for it. After reading that the company supports the heinous, modern day concentration camps, we will be purchasing our items elsewhere. #BoycottWayfair
— Autumn Rheingans (@Zoe_Rheingans) June 25, 2019
Calls for a boycott come amid a wave of protests against corporations. Perhaps most notably, both residents and elected leaders in New York City fiercely opposed Amazon’s plans to open a major office in Queens. That backlash ultimately succeeded in getting the retail giant to cancel the plans.
Though it wasn’t ultimately clear how Wayfair would navigate it’s own controversy, a number of critics Tuesday began tweeting directly at company executives, demanding that they cease working in any way with the U.S. government’s border agencies. As of Tuesday evening, however, company leaders appear not to have made any public statements on the situation.
Update: This post was updated after publication with comment from Vacasa and additional information about recent corporate political controversies.