Hundreds of engineers, product managers, and visual artists employed at the online housewares giant Wayfair streamed out of their sleek offices and into Copley Square in Boston on Wednesday, gathering with hundreds more to protest the company’s sale of furniture to the operators of facilities that detain migrant children along the southern border. The protesters spread across the square, some carrying handmade signs proclaiming “A prison with a bed is still a prison” and “Workers say no to child detention!” The walkout was planned after employees discovered last week that Wayfair intended to fulfill an order from BCFS, a government contractor that's operating camps at the border, for $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture. More than 500 employees signed a letter to the company’s leadership, urging them to cease doing business with BCFS and similar contractors, and to establish a code of ethics for B-to-B sales. Management indicated there would be no retaliation for employees who participated in the walkout.
Total Retail's Take: Much like consumers have come to expect and demand that the brands they do business with have a purpose and social conscious, so too do employees of the corporations they work for. Wayfair finds itself in a precarious position: continue to do business with BCFS and other firms like it, which represents a lucrative opportunity for Wayfair, but also alienate a segment of its employees, or stop selling to politically connected businesses like BCFS, costing it significant revenue, but earning the trust and appreciation of its employees. Being a retailer today means more than just curating great product and selling it to consumers as seamlessly as possible to create the best possible shopping experiences. Brands are expected to take stands, be socially responsible, and have a purpose. Wayfair is learning that the hard way.