Seriously, why can’t we have nice things? Online home store Wayfair has become the latest company to be called out for some no-good-very-bad-deeds. But this time, it started with the company’s own employees, who walked off the job on June 26 to protest Wayfair’s deal to provide government contractors with beds for the camps that house detained migrants at the United States border. Yeah, those camps.
It didn’t have to be this way; employees requested the company cease involvement with these contractors, but Wayfair higher-ups responded with a resounding “NO.” So, employees planned a protest, and when the news broke, customers vowed to boycott the company in order to convey their displeasure and (hopefully) encourage Wayfair to reconsider.
But here’s the thing. While we’re all for vive-ing la resistance, the sad truth is, boycotts don’t always lead to effective, long-term change. That’s not to say you should continue shopping at Wayfair; not purchasing that mid-century modern headboard will likely make you feel better and boycotts do raise public awareness. But that should be your first step, not your last—because there are tangible ways for Canadians to help migrants at the border.
First, what’s up with Wayfair?
Whoever said shopping isn’t political is 100% wrong. As with many bad things in the world right now, the source of the Wayfair walkout leads back to Washington and the Trump administration. Since his election, President Trump has taken a strict stance on migrants fleeing across the Mexico/U.S. border, holding them in custody in detainment camps along the border until they can be sent back home and often working to criminally prosecute these migrants under the “zero-tolerance policy.”
These detainments have largely, and horribly, affected children. According to a June 25 article by VOX, over the past several weeks, over 2,000 children have been held in custody without their parents, often for much longer than the legally outlined detainment period of 72 hours. Recently, government investigators have spoken out about the conditions in these camps, recounting babies in dirty diapers, sick children and overall unsafe conditions. There have been at least five reported deaths of migrant children within the camps.
In a June 22 tweet, U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to the detainment camps as “mass concentration camps.” So yeah, they’re horrible.
The GOP has supported building mass concentration camps on the southern border. Kids & families are dying.
Now they want money for more – w/ ZERO negotiation on how $ is spent.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 22, 2019
Why human kindness is the only solution if we want a better world for our kids But what does that have to do with your couch? A lot. Through a contract with BCFS Health and Human Services, a Texas not-for-profit organization, Wayfair reportedly sold $200,000 worth of bedroom furniture to furnish a detainment camp in Carrizo Springs, Texas. According to The Guardian, this camp houses up to 3,000 migrant children. In response to this news, Wayfair employees signed a petition asking that the company cease all business with these border camps and donate any profits made thus far to RAICES, a not-for-profit immigration legal service focusing on reuniting families and children separated at the border.
tl;dr – Wayfair sold beds to furnish border camps; 547 employees signed a petition to ask that we cease all business with border camps; CEO said no —>employees are walking out tmrw at 1:30pm. We ask that Wayfair donate all profits made from the sale to RAICES #WayfairWalkout
— wayfairwalkout (@wayfairwalkout) June 25, 2019
In response, Wayfair leadership said the company would continue to fill orders for “all customers,” though they also claimed that “this does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us.” (Which, TBH is completely incorrect. Hey Wayfair, take a cue from Ravelry, please.)
Thus, #WayfairWalkout was born. On June 26, employees walked out of the company’s Boston headquarters, and they urged employees across the country, and Wayfair customers across the world, to follow suit.
Wayfair is confirmed to be selling beds to the border camps! Employees asked for the order to be canceled and management said no. Everyone deserves a home they can feel safe and loved in, especially children, no matter where they're from.
— wayfairwalkout (@wayfairwalkout) June 25, 2019
Boycotting is nice, but it doesn’t usually work
Consumer boycotts have a long history, but while it’s a noble idea, saying “no” to purchasing furniture from Wayfair probably won’t do much in the longterm—especially if you’re looking to affect company sales or change their policies.
The New York Times calls boycotts “moral peacocking,” and for good reason. “Very few boycotts have led to changes,” Maurice Schweitzer, a professor of management at Wharton University in Pennsylvania, told the LA Times. This is due, in large part, to the fleeting nature of both these boycotts and people’s attention. “Most boycotts lack a sustained effort,” he said. People lose interest or, more likely, stop paying attention, especially when they’re inundated with non-stop calls to action online. This isn’t a new phenomenon; in a 2010 piece for The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the rise of social media activism, in which weak ties between people and causes allows us to send off a tweet or change the icon on our Instagram bio and feel like we’re involved, when actually we’re doing the least.
As of publication, Wayfair’s stocks have dropped more than 5%, but it’s hard to tell how much that can be attributed to the boycott; according to Forbes, the company is “an unprofitable company whose revenue is decelerating,” and has been for at least the past year.
The real change seems to come from targeting bad companies (or industries) in a strategic, carefully planned campaign, one that prioritizes the movement over the outrage of a moment and attacks their reputation—not their bottom line.
Here’s what Canadians can do to make a difference
But, fear not. There are a lot of things Canadians can do to help. RAICES is a great place to start. As a nonprofit agency, RAICES is the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas (where a majority of the border camps are located), and provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families and refugees. They’re an excellent source of information about the crisis, and they always need help. So, if you have family or friends located in the States, encourage them to volunteer. And considering making a donation. You’d be in good company; it’s supported by celebs like Mindy Kaling, who recently donated $1000 towards the organization to celebrate her birthday.
I’m so grateful to have my wonderful, peaceful life w/ my daughter Katherine. How lucky am I to turn 40? I would love to express my gratitude by donating $1000 to 40 different charitable orgs that help others. Pls suggest some! I will kick it off by giving $1000 to @RAICESTEXAS!
— Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) June 24, 2019
Other U.S.-based organizations include, Kids in Need of Defense, which works to ensure that children don’t appear in immigration court without representation (which, horrifyingly, happens on the regular); The Urban Justice Center’s Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, which works to keep families together and Women’s Refugee Commission. Slate has comprised a list of organizations and is continuously updating it. It’s important when looking for organizations to donate, that we choose reputable organizations that are already on the ground working towards reuniting families.
You can also write to our government. While it can seem ineffective to speak out when we’re so far away geographically, putting pressure on Canadian Members of Parliament or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is still important, as it can encourage them to take tangible action. For his part, Trudeau has spoken out about the separation of families at the U.S. border, condemning Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. “What’s going on in the United States is wrong,” Trudeau told reporters in June 2018. “I can’t imagine what the families who are living through this are enduring … this is not the way we do things in Canada.”
And finally, understanding the issue is important. Read up on the migrant crisis, why this is happening and what the effects of it are. Okay, and yeah, maybe don’t buy whatever’s in your Wayfair shopping cart rn. Retail boycotts may be futile from legislation perspective, but it’s important to know who/what the companies we shop at support, and if that’s in opposition to our own values, we should speak out about it and stop purchasing from them—if only as a start.