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'Boycott Wayfair': Employees walk out, hundreds protest over sales to migrant detention center

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/26/2019 Joey Garrison
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BOSTON —  Employees walked out of Wayfair's downtown Boston headquarters Wednesday, spilling onto famous Copley Square where hundreds of employees and supporters protested the furniture retail giant's sales to migrant detention centers. 

Their early afternoon demonstration came in response to Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah rejecting a request by 571 employees who signed a petition asking the company to desist from doing business with border camps.

“We don’t want our company to profit off of children being kept in concentration camps,” said Maddie Howard, 29, a project manager at Wayfair who has worked there six years.

Some protesters held signs that read, "Boycott Wayfair!" "People Over Profit" and "Solidarity with Wayfair Workers! Shut Down the Concentration Camps!"

It marks the first major protest from employees of a corporation for selling goods to detention centers amid heightened tension at the US. southern border.

President Donald Trump has sought a "zero tolerance" immigration policy, resulting in the separation of children from migrant families in detention camps. Six children have died in detention since September as a large surge of immigrants from Central America seek asylum. 

'Grave concern and anger'

The protesters said they found out Monday that Wayfair has sold $200,000 in bedroom furniture to BCSF, a government contractor that managed detention camps for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. The furniture is destined for Carizzo Springs, Texas, the protesters wrote in a letter to the company's executive staff, to a facility that will be equipped to hold 3,000 detained migrant children. 

The letter said their position comes "from a place of grave concern and anger about the atrocities being committed at our Southern border."

"The United States 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," the letter reads. "We want to be sure that Wayfair has no part in enabling, supporting or profiting from this practice."

a close up of a screen: This April 17, 2018, file photo shows the Wayfair website on a computer in New York. Employees at online home furnishings retailer Wayfair have planned a walkout to protest the company's decision to sell $200,000 worth of furniture to a government contractor that runs a detention center for migrant children in Texas. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File) © Jenny Kane, AP This April 17, 2018, file photo shows the Wayfair website on a computer in New York. Employees at online home furnishings retailer Wayfair have planned a walkout to protest the company's decision to sell $200,000 worth of furniture to a government contractor that runs a detention center for migrant children in Texas. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Scrutiny over deplorable conditions at border detention camps has heightened since a group of lawyers reported a lack of food, water, soap and medical care inside a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, where older children had to look after toddlers and several kids had the flu.

NOT JUST CLINT: Sick, hungry migrant children in other facilities, too, some in 'cages,' others sleeping on concrete

In response to the employees' letter, Wayfair leadership wrote a letter Monday commending their commitment to making a difference but also pointing out not everyone shares their perspective.

“As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers and we believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate,’’ the letter said. “We believe all of our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors and suppliers included, are best served by our commitment to fulfill all orders. This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the group or individuals who purchase from us.’’

The company did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday ahead of the protest.

The employees' petition quotes a United Nations statement that says detaining children is always a violation of their rights.

"We believe that by selling these (or any) products to BCSF or similar contractors we are enabling this violation and are complicit in enabling the inhumane actions of our government," the letter says.

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

BORDER CRISIS: Why — and how — we decided to publish the gut-wrenching photo of father and child

Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY 

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Boycott Wayfair': Employees walk out, hundreds protest over sales to migrant detention center

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