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Tina Casey headshot

Wayfair Employees' Protest Over Treatment of Migrant Children Picks Up Where Tech Workers Left Off

By Tina Casey

Employees at the furniture maker Wayfair have brought renewed attention to the issue of migrant rights – especially when it comes to children.

During the Donald Trump administration, tech companies and their employees have been quick to protest the president’s policies on immigration. So far, those outcries have resulted in little concrete action. Now, employees at the Boston-based furnishing company Wayfair have brought renewed attention to the issue of migrant rights, especially when it comes to children.

Corporate leadership can be helpful, but not all corporations are helping

Corporate leaders have been changing the conversation on key issues of broad social concern, like immigrant rights, gun control and the climate crisis. They are both responding to and shaping the public consensus. That includes addressing the concerns of their own employees.

In some cases, employee concerns play a direct role in shaping corporate policy.

Levi Strauss & Co, for example, stepped up its long running support for common sense gun safety after a customer accidentally shot himself in a store. The incident prompted a firm response from CEO Chip Bergh, who cited concerns for employee safety along with the security of all customers.

Accenture provides another type of example. While respectful of host countries in its global operations, Accenture backs up its diversity policy with support for LGBTQ employees who are visible and active in their communities.   

Some companies are harder to convince than others. For example, Amazon employees are demanding that their employer act more aggressively on climate change, with limited success. Employees at Google are also protesting their company on several issues, including censorship and sexual harassment, though they don’t seem to have gained much traction so far.

Wayfair employees pick up where tech workers left off

One of the first examples of employee activism in the tech sector occurred in the runup to the 2016 presidential election, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was forced to respond to employee concerns over board of directors member Peter Thiel’s position on immigration and his support for the Trump campaign.

So far, those concerns have not resulted in any material response from the company, and Thiel is still on the Facebook board.

However, this week’s action by Wayfair’s employees may embolden Facebook and other tech workers to take a stronger stand.

On Tuesday, CNBC reported that Wayfair employees were organizing a walkout protest at the company’s headquarters in Boston, aimed at drawing attention to the treatment of migrant children at border facilities and elsewhere. They have also taken their cause to social media with the Twitter account @WayfairWalkout.

An open letter circulating among employees at the company had already gathered more than 500 signatures as of Tuesday, CNBC reported. The letter places responsibility for the “detention and mistreatment of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in our country” squarely on the shoulders of contractors as well as the U.S. government.

As stated in the letter, the purpose of the walkout is to help ensure that “Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting, or profiting from this practice.”

Words matter: Holding companies to account for the treatment of migrant children

Plans for the walkout were set in motion after reports surfaced that Wayfair had sold hundreds of mattresses and bunk beds for use at a “detention camp” holding migrant children in Texas.

As CNBC and other media outlets reported, Wayfair responded by asserting its responsibility to employees, investors and customers by filling all orders, regardless of the “opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.”

That position undercuts the company’s own statements relating to the welfare of children.

Wayfair's public statement on charitable giving reads, “We believe that a secure home is not only a basic human need but also the foundation for well-being.” Wayfair also emphasizes that “our mission is to make home a reality for more of the many people in need of safe shelter> and basic household items that help make a home.”

Taking a stronger stand on customer relations would be a risky move for companies like Wayfair, but as the immigration crisis continues to unfold, companies are beginning to take that risk.

For inspiration, Wayfair can look to Ravelry, another Boston-based company that has taken a strong stand on migrant rights and human dignity.

Image credits: Wayfair; RAICES/Facebook

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey