BOSTON — Employees at the online home furnishings retailer Wayfair, walked off the job 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.
Wednesday's protest triggered a broader backlash against the company, with some customers calling for a boycott.
Several hundred people joined the protest at a plaza near the company's Boston headquarters -- a mix of employees and people from outside the company.
More than 500 employees signed a protest letter to executives when they found out about the contract.
Wayfair sold the beds to Baptist Children's Family Services, a non-profit with federal contracts to manage some of the camps along the border.
"We believe youth should sleep in beds with mattresses," the organization said in a brief statement.
Wayfair refused to back out of the contract but told employees Wednesday morning that it would donate $100,000 to the Red Cross.
"Last week, we found out about the sale and that we are profiting from this. And we are not comfortable with that," said Tom Brown, 33, a Wayfair employee. "For me personally, there is more to life than profit."
Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both said they stood by the Wayfair employees who are protesting, as did Congressional Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The protest comes amid a new uproar over revelations of terrible conditions at a Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, including inadequate medical care and a lack of food and sanitary products.
Emotions were also running high after photos published by the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, were distributed worldwide by the Associated Press.
The images showed the bodies of a migrant father and his young daughter who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico to enter the United States without legal permission.
In a letter to employees, Wayfair executives explained the standard nature of business and why their contract stands.
"We believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate," said the letter.
After demands from employees, Wayfair donated the profit of the sale -- about $86,000 -- to RAICES, which is the largest non-profit immigration legal services provider in Texas.
In a statement, the Red Cross said it was "grateful for Wayfair's generous donation."
Madeline Howard, a product manager at Wayfair, said company leaders also held a town hall earlier in the week to listen to employee concerns. In the end, however, they would not budge on their stance.
Wayfair said it would have no further comment on the protest.
© 2020 Cox Media Group