Whole Foods bans employees from wearing poppies

November 6th 2020.  US national grocery store chain Whole foods has implemented a ban on its employees from wearing the poppy,  a traditional symbol of wartime remembrance, while on the job.  U.S.-based Whole Foods Market says poppies aren't allowed under its recently updated uniform policy, which affects employees at its 14 locations across Canada. 

Monica LaBarge, Assistant Professor in Marketing at the Smith School of Business at Queen's University says “it appears that Whole Foods has created a policy related to expressing ‘political’ views, probably as a consequence of the Black Lives Matter movements that exploded over the summer, and potentially out of a desire to limit political debates between its employees, or between its employees and customers."

"That seems like a reasonable action" in LaBarge's view. "The issue seems that it has not adequately explained the policy to employees, who are confused about not being able to visibly demonstrate their support for veterans. All in all, the poppy and that support is innocuous and broadly well-accepted in Canadian society,” says Dr. LaBarge.

LaBarge has also observed the increasing tendency for brands to take overtly political stances on important social issues, positions that consumers are now coming to expect.  "If they decide to hold the line on individual employees demonstrating their ‘political’ views (a very generous description of the act of wearing a poppy), then it would be appropriate for the stores to determine how they can visibly - for employees and customers alike - demonstrate their support for veterans around the holiday." 

Dr. Labarge says Remembrance Day in Canada "is primarily about honouring veterans who have given their lives for our country, particularly in the two World Wars; it’s really not about promoting the military or force, which conceivably might be the only “political” aspect of the holiday."  However, COVID 19 also presents a new challenge for veterans groups this year who are concerned that the lack of ability to sell poppies face-to-face may diminish revenues for veterans who benefit from the programs supported through the sale of poppies. In LaBarge's view, "making more of an effort, rather than banning actions by employees, would be warranted."

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