Whole Foods angers Canadians after employees told they can’t wear poppies

Following widespread criticism, Whole Foods has changed its policy and will now allow employees to wear poppies while on the job. Greg Harper reports.

UPDATE: Whole Foods has changed course and will now allow employees to wear poppies while on the job. Read more here.

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canadians across the country are calling on U.S.-based Whole Foods to change its dress code policy after employees revealed the company is preventing them from wearing poppies ahead of Remembrance Day.

A new uniform policy went into effect at the grocery store chain’s locations on Nov. 2, according to Business Insider, which reported last month that changes were coming. Whole Foods’ policy prohibits, among other things, buttons or pins on employee aprons.

A person identifying themselves as a Whole Foods employee in Ontario wrote on Reddit that they put a poppy on their apron on Thursday and was “immediately” told they had to take it off because they’re not allowed to wear them.

“Apparently this came directly from our HR person,” the employee added. “The reason given was something along the lines of ‘well if we let you support this ’cause’ then it opens the door for allowing support [ie. buttons and pins] for other causes and we just don’t wanna go there, so we’re saying no to everything, even poppies.'”

Other people who also identify themselves as employees at Whole Foods locations across Canada, including B.C., said they, too, have been told they can’t wear poppies, adding it’s because of the new uniform policy.

News that Whole Foods isn’t allowing employees to wear poppies was first reported by CBC on Friday morning, with the company’s move sparking heavy criticism online, and making Whole Foods trend on Twitter.

Despite the heat, Whole Foods doesn’t appear to be ready to reverse course.

“Whole Foods Market honours the men and women who have and continue to bravely serve their country. We support Remembrance Day in all of our Canadian stores by observing a moment of silence on November 11th and by donating to the Legion’s Poppy Campaign,” a spokesperson told NEWS 1130 Friday morning.

“With the exception of those items required by law, our dress code policy prohibits any additions to our standard uniform.”

Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon, has 14 locations across Canada, including seven in B.C.

Legion thankful for support

The Royal Canadian Legion has issued a statement saying it’s thankful to everyone, including Whole Foods, who contributes “in various ways to the National Poppy Campaign.”

“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 BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion writes.

It did not provide any further comment on the matter.

‘I think Whole Foods has made a silly mistake’

When asked about the matter on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “I think Whole Foods has made a silly mistake,” and that he hopes the company would “correct very quickly.”

“Our Minister of Veterans Affairs, Lawrence MacAulay, has engaged directly with them to highlight that they made a mistake and that they should change course,” Trudeau said.

“This is something we see every year, almost. Some company, some organization, some retails store makes a mistake around support for the Legions or the wearing of the poppies, and it is quickly corrected due to public outcry. I think that is certainly what I hope will happen in the coming days.”

Some political leaders took to social media to call Whole Foods out.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan was among them, writing on Friday “Canadians wear poppies as an act of Remembrance.”

“We wear them to honour the sacrifices made by our Veterans for our freedoms and values. All Canadians should be able to wear the poppy, no matter where they work,” Sajjan, who is also MP for Vancouver South, adds.

“The poppy is not a cause, it’s a sign of respect,” Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole says in a video posted to Twitter. “Respect for those who sacrificed it all for our todays. That’s why I was outraged to see Whole Foods is not allowing their employees to wear a poppy. They say it’s part of a cause. Wow. The freedom they have to be that stupid was granted by the sacrifice of thousands of Canadians, and that’s why we show respect for the poppy. I’d like Whole Foods to stop trying to be ‘Woke Foods’ and do the right thing. Show respect, lest we forget.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh writes “it was wrong when they (Whole Foods) banned staff expressing support for Black Lives Matter and it’s wrong to ban the Poppy.” He adds Canadians should be allowed to carry out their “right to honour the sacrifices of veterans when they go to work.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan was also vocal about his opinion, telling Whole Foods to “Give your heads a shake.”

“Wearing a poppy for Remembrance Day and Aboriginal Veterans Day is about honouring people who have given so much in service to others,” he tweeted.

Ford to introduce legislation in Ontario

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday that he would be introducing legislation prohibiting employers from banning staff from wearing poppies during Remembrance Week.

He earlier went online to share his thoughts on the matter, saying “It’s disgusting and disgraceful that @WholeFoods has banned poppies for their employees. We will always stand with our veterans. Whole Foods should apologize and immediately reverse this decision. Everyone should wear a poppy.”

Meanwhile, other chains took to social media to encourage their workers to continue wearing the poppy.

“We allow and encourage our colleagues across the country to wear poppies,” Loblaw Companies says in a tweet. “We have supported our veterans through poppy sales for years, and are making a donation to the Royal Canadian Legion. We encourage all Canadians to do the same at http://mypoppy.ca.”

Sobeys says workers are “finding unique ways to keep the spirit of Remembrance Day alive in this unprecedented year.”

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