Hindu activists urge Wayfair CEO to stop selling beds to migrant camps

A progressive Hindu organization calls on Niraj Shah, of home goods retailer Wayfair, to vacate a reported agreement to provide beds to furnish a new Texas detention camp for migrants seeking asylum.

Employees of Wayfair march to Copley Square in protest prior to their rally in Boston, on June 26, 2019. Employees at online home furnishings retailer Wayfair walked out of work 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/Charles Krupa)

BOSTON (RNS) — A progressive Hindu organization is calling on the Hindu CEO of home goods retailer Wayfair to turn down business dealings with a federal contractor that is helping to operate facilities detaining children near the U.S.-Mexico border.

“As Hindus and scholars and practitioners of Hindu traditions who share your concern about poverty and human suffering, and your demonstrated commitment to addressing it, we hope you will reconsider Wayfair’s involvement in the humanitarian crisis at our US-Mexico border,” reads the open letter to Wayfair’s Niraj Shah, published by board members of Sadhana.

The letter was also signed by more than a dozen other Hindu scholars, activists and spiritual leaders, including Princeton University Hindu chaplain Vineet Chander and Indian human rights activist Swami Agnivesh.

Founded in 2011 by New York activists Sunita Vishwanath and Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Sadhana is a social justice organization that aims to build a progressive Hindu movement.

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Selling furniture to the government for migrant detention centers is “tantamount to being an accomplice to the inhumane policies of the United States government towards the migrant families,” the letter warned Shah.

The open letter is an apparent attempt to turn up the pressure on Wayfair, which has encountered dissent from its employees over providing furniture to the contractor. Two weeks ago, Wayfair workers drew crowds of supporters as they staged a walkout at the company’s Boston headquarters to protest the retailer’s reported plans to fulfill a $200,000 order placed by BCFS Health and Human Services for beds for a detention camp in Texas.

Wayfair reportedly would have made about $86,000 in profit, which employees asked the company to donate to the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

Company executives responded to employees with an internal letter saying they would “sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate.” Executives then announced the company would donate $100,000 to the Red Cross.

The letter from Sadhana is not Wayfair’s first run-in with Hindu activists. Last year, the company was forced to apologize to Hindu activists who called it out for selling a cutting board with the image of Lord Ganesha.

In June, several prominent South Asian activists signed another open letter, this one by South Asians Against Child Separations, addressed to Shah and his family’s foundation.

“We urge you, Mr. Shah, to stop profiting off an inhumane policy that separates, criminalizes, and incarcerates children,” the letter reads. “We ask you to join us and all Americans who care about human dignity.”

Sahdhana’s Vishwanath signed that letter too, along with Hindu activists Anirvan Chatterjee, Deepa Iyer and Varshini Prakash; Muslim activists Taz Ahmed, Zahra Billoo, Namira Islam, Darakshan Raja and Kifah Shah; Sikh activists Valarie Kaur, Simran Jeet Singh and Arjun Singh Sethi; and others.

But this week’s letter was a more pointed appeal to Shah’s Hindu faith and his values as a son of Indian immigrants. The letter invokes the Hindu principles of ahimsa, or nonviolence, and “‘Atithi Devo Bhava,’ which calls on us to see God in every guest, every foreigner, every person who is different from ourselves.”

“By immigrating to the United States from India, your parents were able to carve out a path for you to succeed in life,” Sadhana’s letter reminded Shah. “That path is being closed to increasing numbers of immigrants searching for that same opportunity.”

The letter also noted the spike in undocumented South Asian migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years, as well as the recent death of Gurupreet Kaur, a 6-year-old Sikh girl whose family was seeking asylum from India. Kaur’s remains were found in the Arizona desert last month after she died of dehydration.

Wayfair did not respond to a request for comment.

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