Whole Foods Workers Sent Home for Wearing Anti-Racism T-Shirts That Use Company's Own Language

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Jul. 6 2020, Updated 3:12 p.m. ET

In late June, a group of Whole Foods employees at a Cambridge, Massachusetts store walked out in protest of the company's policy, which prohibited them from wearing Black Lives Matter masks. In a tweet, one of the employees wrote, "They care about the business their racist customers give them more than spreading a peaceful yet important message. Black lives matter."

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In solidarity with that group and with other who've been sent home for wearing Black Lives Matter masks, a group of Whole Foods Team Members (TMs) wore t-shirts that used the company's own publicized language: "Racism has no place here." They too were sent home for violating the dress code.

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As you can see, the phrase "Racism has no place here" has been used on the Whole Foods website, and a variation of it on signs in the actual stores. Yet they sent their employees home for wearing the exact same phrase on t-shirts.

The Twitter user, Graham, who posted this tweet, writes, "We’re asking that you please call or email WFM corporate and let them know what you think of them not supporting their own words. Our TMs deserve to have their voices heard and feel safe. We can’t do it alone. +1-844-936-8255 /customer.questions@wholefoods.com."

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As this thread picked up steam and started to go viral, Graham began receiving messages from other Whole Foods employees as well as Amazon employees (Amazon owns Whole Foods) with similar stories of being sent home for outwardly supporting Black Lives Matter with their apparel. 

Others shared stories of racism they experienced at the hands of their bosses and improper protective measures for dealing with COVID-19. Whole Foods employees in many locations feel that they have been treated poorly.

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In one DM that Graham received, the employee wrote that although there was a page in their employee news binder about how Whole Foods values "diversity," it was right next to a "friendly reminder" about the dress code standards, and they emphasized that there were no words allowed on their clothes that aren't "WFM [Whole Foods Market] affiliated."

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In other words, Whole Foods knew exactly what it was doing. Its anti-racism commitment doesn't seem to extend as far as giving its employees support that they need to do their jobs safely and effectively, and it also doesn't extend to letting its employees also express anti-racism, even if it uses the same language the company does on its signage.

Someone else shared that a group of employees at a Whole Foods in Wilmington, NC were similarly told to remove their Black Lives Matter masks or leave, and it led to a peaceful protest outside the store.

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The post reads, "Black Lives Matter more than making a buck off of racist customers that would be offended at such a statement. People over profit." 

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It does seem, from this protest and the others before it, that Whole Foods is willing to support the cause of anti-racism up to a point. And when it becomes uncomfortable for them or when the stores are criticized by customers who claim they won't shop there anymore if they allow that kind of messaging, the company backs down.

It shouldn't be a radical statement to say "Black Lives Matter" or "Racism has no place here." These are messages that Whole Foods ostensibly supports, and yet, it's clear that while they posture and post in support of these causes, they don't actually support them when their employees amplify them.

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