The news stories laud the courage and activism of the Wayfair employees. However, one must look far and wide to find an important part of the story. Wayfair was not selling mattresses to ICE, as some stories reported, or the federal government, as most of the stories reported. Wayfair was selling mattresses to Baptist Children’s Family Services, a government contractor running detention centers. A nonprofit government contractor. A religious-based nonprofit trying to make conditions better in the humanitarian crisis at the border.
Regardless of how we feel politically about immigration laws, immigration policies, and who caused what or did what, we have those who serve those who are at the border, for whatever reason. Those who serve need food, shelter, sleep, and basic hygiene products to do so effectively. Shall we punish toothpaste companies? Shall we boycott dairies? Shall we boycott Frito-Lay if a bag of chips ends up in a detention center? Shall farm workers walk out because lettuce is making its way into meals there?
The praise for Wayfair employees not only misses facts, it misses reality. Corporate activism is depicted as the brave effectors of Generation X, Y, and Z employees who feel empowered to demand certain actions and views from their employers. From Google to Microsoft to Twitter and all up and down the Silicon Valley, these employees demand that their employers adopt their political views.
The Barometer is all for employee activism, but stunned on employee inconsistency in this realm. Employees rarely speak up about defective products, shoddy production, money laundering, or insider trading. The press coverage just is not there. Yet, these are the activities that bring a company down. So, this brave new generation remains sullen and mute on legal and safety violations because, “I don’t want to lose my job.” One wonders where the line is for what employees can tolerate in employers.
There is little thought, but plenty of emotion and few facts, that go into social responsibility issues and protests. Employees fail to grasp that their self-righteous indignation on their chosen issues puts their companies at risk. Wayfair is currently struggling financially. Turning down customers on the basis of their customers or sales (although not selling to a religious nonprofit that is giving teens a mattress on which to lay their weary heads seems slightly antithetical to social responsibility goals), is not an effective path back from the business red zone. Ironically, employees’ vocal positions on these safe, media-darling issues will produce the same negative consequences for their employers their reticence and silence on the legal and safety issues do: You destroy the business (not even taking into account the customer backlash that could follow).
Wayfair did agree to make a donation to the Red Cross (a donation greater than the profit Wayfair will make on the mattress sales). The Red Cross stays away all things border. Still not good enough to prevent the walk-out. Neutrality is insufficient in this era of emotion — my way, or no way. The employees may get their wish. Wayfair may not survive.
As the Barometer once said to a former student who was working for a defense contractor that made weapons and who was struggling mightily, “You may have to find a different company with social and political values consistent with your own.” Wayfair employees may soon be looking for such a company. The Barometer only hopes they can find such a company somewhere in a supply chain. Where is a company that sells products to entities, agencies, governments, other companies, and human beings that someone could not find objectionable? There is that line question again. We are now into secondary boycotts. Can tertiary ones be far behind? The Baptists are next. Followed by anyone who sells to Baptists. Followed yet again by anyone who sells to those who sell to Baptists. Followed by boycotts of those who defend Baptists. Followed by boycotts of those who were Baptists 40 years ago. You get the idea.