Whole Foods reverses ban on staff wearing poppies after outcry
TORONTO -- Following public outcry from veterans and politicians across Canada, international supermarket chain Whole Foods has vowed to reverse a company dress code policy that prevented employees from wearing Remembrance Day poppies.
The initial decision to ban staff poppies sparked controversy earlier Friday morning and had politicians speaking out, calling it “shameful and wrong.”
The company has since decided to reverse the policy saying in a statement, “Our intention was never to single out the poppy or to suggest a lack of support for Remembrance Day and the heroes who have bravely served their country.”
“Given the learnings of today, we are welcoming Team Members to wear the poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day.”
Earlier in the day, MPs in the House of Commons unanimously adopted a motion calling on all Canadian employers to allow their employees to wear poppies during Veterans Week.
Parliament also voted to invite Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to appear before the standing committee on veterans affairs.
The company has since decided to reverse its stance on poppies, but not before drawing sharp criticism from politicians across party lines.
Canada’s Minister of Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay called the policy "absolutely unacceptable" on CTV News Channel on Friday.
"[Poppies are] to show respect for people who stood in danger for our freedom and democracy around the world. Quite simply it's totally unacceptable and hopefully they can change this quickly," he said.
Following a conversation with the company’s COO, the minister released a statement saying, “Just spoke with the Chief Operating Officer of Whole Foods. Employees will now be able to wear their poppies at work.”
“The poppy represents those who’ve served, fought, and died for Canada, and it’s deeply personal to everyone here. Glad to hear they’re changing course.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa earlier Friday that he thinks Whole Foods “has made a silly mistake that I am hoping they will correct.”
“This is something we see every year almost -- some company, some organization, some retail store makes a mistake around support for legions or the wearing of the poppies and it is quickly corrected due to public outcry,” he said. “I think that is certainly what I hope will happen in the process.”
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole posted a video message online calling the dress code policy "stupid" in a tweet.
“The poppy is not a cause, it is a sign of respect,” O’Toole said. “The sacrifice of Canadians in the past provides the freedom for a US grocery chain to be stupid today … Let’s tell Whole Foods to stop trying to be Woke Foods.”
The dress code restriction even spurred Ontario Premier Doug Ford -- who told CFRA radio in Ottawa that his family will be boycotting the grocery chain -- to announce he would seek legislation in the province to ban employers from prohibiting staff from wearing poppies during Remembrance Week.
“I find it absolutely disgusting and disgraceful,” the premier told reporters later on Friday. “Whoever at Whole Foods made this decision isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
“I never, ever want to see any company in Ontario ever do this again,” he added.
Other grocery chains have responded in support of the Royal Canadian Legion and its "Poppy Campaign" to support veterans and their families. Sobeys posted a photo on Twitter featuring a staff member wearing a poppy, and Loblaws said in a statement that company leaders "allow and encourage" employees and colleagues to wear poppies.
The new controversy follows another flashpoint around Whole Food uniforms earlier this year, when U.S. staff filed a federal lawsuit against their employer after they were told they couldn’t wear “Black Lives Matter” face coverings at work.
At the time, store managers also cited the same company dress code language, which forbids symbols and phrases not affiliated with Whole Foods.
“It was wrong when they banned staff expressing support for Black Lives Matter and it’s wrong to ban the Poppy,” wrote NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Twitter. “Canadians shouldn’t lose the right to honour the sacrifices of veterans when they go to work.”
The poppy has long been a symbol of peace used to honour the memory of fallen soldiers from the First and Second World Wars, most often associated with a poem written in 1915 by Canadian physician Lt.-Col. John McCrae.
In a statement, the Royal Canadian Legion said the poppy “is fundamentally a symbol of great respect and thankfulness for Canada’s Fallen, for those who have sacrificed for our freedoms today.”
“While retailers must set their own corporate policies, unless there are safety concerns we do encourage wearing poppies at all times as a show of respect for our Fallen, and as a symbol that helps educate Canadians about the sacrifices of our Veterans,” the legion said.