Columnists and letter writers on these pages in recent days have been asking what average Americans can do to protest the Trump administration's housing of immigrant children in what amounts to internment camps along the southern border. Upon learning that Wayfair was selling furniture to the operators of these detention facilities, employees of the Boston-based online housewares giant decided their response would be to stage a walkout Wednesday afternoon in protest.
The workers' anger and disgust with barbaric Trump administration policies is admirable, and is shared by millions of Americans. The problem, however, is the White House's policy, not the actions of Wayfair, which could actually benefit the innocent detainees. (This fall, Wayfair will open a sales and service facility in Pittsfield.)
BCFS, a government contractor that has been managing camps at the border, recently signed an agreement with Wayfair to buy $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture. When this came to the attention of Wayfair employees, more than 500 of them signed a letter of protest to company executives. The company's co-founders are Niraj Shah, a Pittsfield native, and Steve Conine. When the company refused to change course, the walkout was organized.
"I want to work at a company where the standards we hold ourselves to are the same standards that we hold our customers to," Elizabeth Good, a manager in the company's engineering team, told the Boston Globe.
In its reply to the letter, the company said that "As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers" who are abiding by the law. This avoids the issue of whether a company should not contribute to a situation that if not illegal is clearly unethical. A better response may have been to point that the introduction of bedroom furniture to camps where according to reliable reports children have been sleeping on the floor would mean that Wayfair is contributing to the betterment of a terrible situation.
The reuniting of families separated at the border is clearly the ultimate solution to this travesty. The issue of illegal immigration and border security is a complex one, and when the president enacted a border crackdown policy that was both simplistic and designed for political gain, he increased its complexity in a particularly cruel way that has brought shame upon a nation that was once a champion of human rights. Wayfair has found itself caught in the middle and isn't the first company to face this predicament. American Airlines and United Airlines both asked the government not to put migrant children who have been separated from their parents on their flights.
By honoring the request of employees that it donate all profits made from the sale of bedroom furniture to RAICES, a nonprofit that reunites families at the border, Wayfair will at least partially appease employees who understandably don't want to be seen as contributing to the situation at the border. Meanwhile, voices of protest must continue to be heard from across America until the children are reunited with parents or at least placed in good homes and the camps that now hold them are closed and torn to the ground.