Wayfair’s CEO, Niraj Shah, is one of us. We must hold him accountable

Participants of the Wayfair walkout gathered in Copley Square in Boston on June 26. (Getty Images)

A few weeks back, workers at Wayfair, an online retailer, realized that their employer was selling beds to migrant detention centers. These centers have recently come under international attack for overcrowding, squalid conditions and a lack of basic needs, like diapers and toothbrushes.

A group of Wayfair employees asked company leadership to cease doing business with the government contractor managing the camps.

In an unsigned letter, company executives responded, “We believe all of our stakeholders, employees, customers, investors, and suppliers included are best served by our commitment to fulfill our orders.” 

One of those executives is first generation Indian American, Niraj Shah, Wayfair’s CEO and Co-Founder. Shah grew up in Massachusetts, the son of Indian immigrants. He graduated from Cornell and founded Wayfair in 2002. Shah is married, has two children and is estimated to be worth more than two billion dollars.

In short, Shah is the living embodiment of the “American dream.” The opposite of the American dream? The abhorrent detention centers.

So many of us Americans are speaking out against the centers. We are organizing, we are rallying, we are marching, we are boycotting. Many of us still are wringing our hands, frustrated by what we perceive as an inability to do anything in the face of this humanitarian crisis. For this reason, Shah is lucky. He’s uniquely situated to help put an end to the centers, to the crisis, to help children escape this unconscionable fate.  


The Wayfair Walkout, as it’s now known, made international news. It’s the most visible company doing business with the detention centers, but hardly the only one.  If Niraj Shah chooses to do the right thing --- and ceases to do business with the Department of Homeland Security – he’d be setting an important precedent for other companies to follow suit. A potential domino effect could take place, with vendor after vendor pulling out. If enough companies follow Wayfair’s example, it would be impossible for the Trump administration to continue operating the camps.

Right now, Shah can choose to be on the right side of history, to stop aiding and abetting a regime that is caging children, separating them from their parents, not providing basic necessities.  Shah can choose to stop profiting off of human misery.

We, as members of Shah’s South Asian American community, can and must encourage him to do the right thing.

Some of our own South Asian family and friends have queried why we, as a community, should be bothered.

1) We should care because putting an end to the detention centers is the *right* thing to do in terms of equality, dignity, and humanity. Throughout history, people have asked: how did good people let atrocities occur? Let’s all be on the right side of history here.

2) The detention centers represent one aspect of the cruelty of the Trump Administration’s policies towards immigrants. Think back to the Muslim ban or the separation of children from their parents or the denaturalization initiatives. All of these policies are still in existence today, and all of them must be denounced by people who believe in the values of respect and equality.

3) South Asians can’t afford to look away  and say, “Well, this doesn’t affect me.” Because it does. At the border, activists are seeing more migrants from South Asia fleeing political and religious persecution. Gurupreet Kaur, a 6 year old girl, died in the Arizona desert just last month attempting to cross the border with a group of migrants from India. All she wanted was to be reunited with her father in America. For many years now, Sikh immigrants have been coming to the southern border to flee religious persecution in India. Beyond the border, Indian Americans are also being affected by unfair immigration policies. The Administration’s denaturalization program has already targeted South Asian immigrants while spouses of H-1B holders are at risk

of losing their employment visas and undocumented Indian youth continue to face uncertain futures because of the DACA program.

Whether you have legal immigration status or not, you will be affected by immigration policies in this country.

As for what you can do:

In terms of Niraj Shah: write, call, email, Tweet at him, send Facebook messages, insisting that Wayfair discontinue doing business with The Department of Homeland Security.

Convene a forum at your place of worship to openly discuss the effects of these policies on your communities. 

Provide know your rights information to community members at grocery stores and restaurants. Find in-language information here: https://www.immigrantdefenseproject.org/ice-home-and-community-arrests/ 

Talk to your family and friends. 

Whatever you do, don’t look away.


Saira Rao is a former congressional candidate and co-founder of In This Together Media, Race2Dinner and Healing from Hate. Rao's upcoming memoir, outlining her experience with racism in the new media, BROKEN NEWS, will be published in Spring 2020. You can find her on Twitter @sairasameerarao.

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