Wayfair’s response to employee outrage at sales to furnish migrant detention centers is wrong, experts say

Many Wayfair Inc. employees are angry over the company’s decision to sell beds and other items that will furnish detention centers for migrants at the southern border.

Now, experts say, the furniture e-retailer’s leaders risk being on the wrong side of history.

A tweet posted to the @WayfairWalkout Twitter feed Wednesday afternoon showed protestors taking to the streets in opposition to Wayfair’s sale of merchandise to the government and its contractors for the detention centers.

According to the feed, 547 Wayfair employees signed a letter in protest sent “to the leadership team” out of “concern and anger about the atrocities being committed at our southern border.”

The Senate on Wednesday voted to provide $4.6 billion in humanitarian aid, a day after the House approved spending on food, water and shelter for people coming into the U.S. via the southern border, along with care of children in U.S. government custody. The two bills now must be reconciled.

Media reports based on the observations of lawyers visiting a detention center in Clint, Texas, say children as young as 7 or 8 years old are being held in overcrowded conditions without access to basic hygienic items like soap. Justice Department lawyers have argued whether the government needs to administer these items in order to provide “safe and sanitary” conditions.

“Over the last two days it has come to our attention that Wayfair has again engaged in B2B sales with BCFS, a non-profit government contractor managing camps for migrants at our southern border,” reads the letter on the Wayfair Walkout feed, referring to a $200,000 order for bedroom furniture that the letter says is destined for a Carrizo Springs, Texas, facility that will detain up to 3,000 children seeking asylum in the U.S.

In a footnote, the letter provides details to a previous deal in September 2018 for a camp in Tornillo, Texas.

“We 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,” said the letter. “We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the southern border do not represent and ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of.”

Business experts are critical of Wayfair’s response.

“This is children in cages. There is no way around that image,” Chris Allieri, founder and principal of Mulberry & Astor, a communications firm, told MarketWatch. “It is completely wrong and any CEO or corporate leader worth their paycheck should realize that.”

Allieri suggests that Wayfair should “immediately change course, stop doing business with detention centers and related federal agencies and issue a clear, succinct apology.”

In a separate tweet, Wayfair Walkout said the company agreed to make a $100,000 donation to the Red Cross. “However, the Red Cross has nothing to do with these ICE-operated facilities,” it added.

MarketWatch reached out to Wayfair but didn’t immediately receive a response.

Anjali Lai, an analyst at Forrester, says companies now have to take a stand on issues or risk being criticized.

“The crux of the issue is that Wayfair is turning a blind eye to its values-driven employees in the name of doing business as usual,” Lai said. “Both employees and consumers are increasingly demanding that brands pick a side and stand for something, because there is no longer such thing as neutral ground.”

Wayfair shares W, +0.98%  rose about 1% in Wednesday trading, and are up 62% for the year to date. The S&P 500 index SPX, -0.12%  has gained 16% in 2019.

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