Employees for the online furnishings retailer Wayfair began a walkout on Wednesday afternoon in protest against the sale of furniture to migrant detention facilities at the southern border.
The protest, which began at 1.30pm at the company’s Boston headquarters, comes as anguish mounts over the severe conditions some migrant children are being held under at border facilities. On Tuesday, more than 100 children were moved back to a station in Clint, Texas, where conditions have been described by independent monitors as “unconscionable”.
Wayfair employees learned last week that the global nonprofit BCFS, which operates detention facilities for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), had placed a $200,000 order for bedroom fixtures for a new center in Carrizo Springs, Texas, designed to hold 1,600 unaccompanied minors.
About 500 employees demanded that the Wayfair cease to do business with BCFS and establish a code of ethics that empowers employees “to act in accordance with our core values”.
The workers said in a letter, which was obtained by CNN: “The US government and its contractors are responsible for the detention and mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in our country – we want that to end.”
Wayfair said in response that it still plans to do business with the contractor. It said the company’s management “believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate”.
The response prompted a furious response from progressives, including Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who described the walkout as “what solidarity looks like”.
Lawyers, doctors and migrant advocates have warned that the detention centers in which children were being held are at risk of major health and hygiene problems.
On Tuesday, nearly 250 migrant children were moved into the custody of the DHHS after lawyers who toured the facility found toddlers without diapers and others who hadn’t bathed in weeks.
As a part of the Wayfair protest, employees want the company to donate all profits made from the sale of the furniture to Raices, a nonprofit that reunites families at the border. A Twitter account called Wayfair Walkout placed the profit at $86,000.
The protest is not the first time employees at companies have launched protests against Trump administration policies. Last year, American Airlines, United and Frontier asked the federal government not to use their planes to transport migrant children after they had been separated from their parents.
Walmart also became embroiled when one of its former Brownsville, Texas, locations was turned into a shelter last year. “We’re really disturbed by how our former store is being used,” the company said. “When we sold the building in 2016 we had no idea it’d be used for this.”