Employees of Wayfair, the online home furnishing store, staged a walkout Wednesday to protest the company’s recent sales of furniture to a company involved in the government’s detention of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to an open letter posted to the Wayfair Walkout Twitter account, employees had learned the previous week that the company sold more than $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to BCFS, a nonprofit government contractor that is housing migrant children at its facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which is outfitted to hold up to 3,000 children.
As reported by Curbed Boston, the walkout brought several hundred people to Back Bay’s Copley Square by 3 p.m., with some reports claiming up to 1,000 people were there.
“We want them to have beds, we also want them to have homes,” said one speaker.
“we don’t want these kids to be sleeping on the floor...that’s not why we’re here! We want them to have beds, we also want them to have homes” - Wayfair speaker— Natalie Shure (@nataliesurely) June 26, 2019
A global health and human services company and government contractor based in San Antonio, BCFS was the contractor involved in an incident at the Port Isobel Detention Center in Texas in 2018, when children were forced to spend two nights—39 hours total—in vans waiting to be reunited with their parents.
In response to the sale, 547 Wayfair employees signed a letter asking the company to cease all current and future business with BCFS and any other contractors participating in the migrant detention operation on the Southern border, in addition to establishing a code of ethics for business-to-business sales to empower employees to “act in accordance with our core values.”
The letter states that the signatories “believe that by selling these (or any) products to BCFS or similar contractors we are enabling this violation and are complicit in furthering the inhumane actions of our government.”
Employees have also asked the company to donate all proceeds from the BCFS sales to RAICES Texas, an organization that provides legal assistance for immigrants and migrants and that staged a successful $20 million fundraising campaign last year after the administration’s family separation plan came to light.
In response, Wayfair CEO Margaret Lawrence has said the company will not cease sales to BCFS. A letter sent by company executives 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 within which we operate. We believe all of our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors, and suppliers included are best served by our commitment to fulfill our orders.”
On Wednesday afternoon, before the planned walkout, a Wayfair representative confirmed that the company will make a $100,000 donation to the Red Cross, but representatives have yet to answer Curbed’s other questions.
Curbed has also reached out to BCFS, both via phone and email, and was told that told that, in response to our questions, “We believe youth should sleep in beds with mattresses,” and told to direct further questions to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In a statement to Curbed, Pat Fisher, spokesperson for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families said the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is “working tirelessly to add shelter capacity so the children are not in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities” which are designed primarily for adults.
“Those who are protesting Wayfair’s sale of beds for unaccompanied alien children need to ask themselves what the alternative should be to keep the children comfortable,” said Fisher. “ORR shelters and cares for the children while working to place them with appropriate sponsors once they leave CBP custody. This includes purchasing brand new beds for the children and other supplies. We appreciate businesses that are able to quickly supply these necessities to provide comfort to the children.”
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. https://t.co/L3hqbazX4l— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 25, 2019
This employee action comes as a series of recent articles in the New Yorker and elsewhere have brought to light the conditions migrant children are subject to amid the family separation policies initiated by the Trump administration. Detailed accounts of children without parents and a lack of blankets and basic sanitary equipment like toothpaste and soap have sparked widespread public outrage.
Wayfair, an online furniture retailer which was founded in 2002, sold $6.7 billion worth of goods last year, a 44.7 percent increase over 2017.