The online home goods and furniture retailer Wayfair announced that the company would be donating $100,000 to fund humanitarian aid at the border through the Red Cross. In a letter to their staff, the cofounders Steve Conine and Niraj Shah wrote that their contribution would “help those in dire need of basic necessities at the border.”
The announcement came on the same day that several hundred Wayfair employees organized a walkout at their Copley Square headquarters in Boston. The demonstration was organized in response to the revelation that their employer had both sold and profited off of beds that would be sent to migrant detention centers at the southern border, a transaction that left many employees feeling like the company was compromising its values. Part of their demonstration was to demand that profits from the sales of beds be donated to RAICES.
An anonymous employee told Vice that the demonstration was designed not as a rebuke of Wayfair but rather as a proactive response to the company’s decision to sell to government contractors involved with migrant detention; instead of suggesting a boycott, the demonstrators demanded that the company live its values. “[This] is us saying to our colleagues and our leaders that we want to work at a place that we feel reflects the ethics and values of our colleagues every day. And we are asking them to be more judicious in who we do business with. I’m happy to say that that conversation continues.” The employee noted that the company administrators have made it very clear that demonstrators would not be punished for voicing their opinions, which are rooted not in partisan politics but in human rights. “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. So why wouldn’t we step up when we can?”
Several other sources have expressed the same commitment to having a dialogue with their employers in order to address this transaction and push Wayfair to clarify how it would handle any future transactions that would allow the company to profit off of ethically troubling arrangements. “This is the first time I felt like I needed to hit the streets to make sure I was proud of my company, that I was happy to work for them,” one of Wayfair’s employees told the crowd, per the Boston Globe.
And what about the fact that the beds will ultimately help to improve the conditions that migrants experience in detainment centers, relieving thousands from having to sleep on the floor? One employee succinctly explained to the Washington Post, “Supporting racist policy for the right reasons still means you’re supporting racist policy. Our attention and energy should be devoted to shutting camps down, not towards making them better.”
The demonstration was picked up by leaders across the country who praised the employees for taking a stand, amplified to the front page by platforms like AOC’s twitter feed. “This is what solidarity looks like,” she tweeted earlier this week, “a reminder that everyday people have real power, as long as we’re brave enough to use it.”