A Whole Foods Market grocery store is shown in Vancouver on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Grocery retailer Whole Foods Market is facing sharp criticism for a policy that forbids its employees from wearing poppies, prompting Ontario's premier to promise legislation that would outlaw such a rule. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Whole Foods reverses poppy ban for workers following heavy criticism

Whole Foods reverses poppy ban for workers following heavy criticism

Grocery chain Whole Foods Market reversed a policy Friday that forbid employees from wearing poppies — a rule the prime minister described as a “silly mistake.”

The U.S.-based Whole Foods had defended the rule earlier, saying it was part of a blanket ban on anything other than the retailer’s basic uniform. It said later, however, that feedback it received was helpful.

“Our intention was never to single out the poppy or suggest a lack of support for Remembrance Day and the heroes who have bravely served their country,” a company spokeswoman said.

“Given the learnings of today, we are welcoming team members to wear the poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said he had spoken to the company’s chief operating officer and welcomed the reversal.

“Employees will now be able to wear their poppies at work,” MacAulay said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Glad to hear they’re changing course.”

Earlier Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that MacAulay was actively working on the issue.

“Whole Foods has made a silly mistake that I’m hoping will be corrected very quickly,” Trudeau had said.

The House of Commons also adopted a motion by unanimous consent calling on all Canadian employers to allow their staff to wear poppies during Veterans Week, which began Thursday.

Meanwhile Ontario’s premier vowed to introduce legislation that would allow everyone to wear a poppy while at work in the week leading up to Remembrance Day.

Doug Ford had said he found the Whole Foods policy “absolutely disgraceful.”

His office said later Friday that the government still planned to proceed with the legislation.

Whole Foods had said earlier that it updated its dress-code policy last month to specify the ban on anything other than the standard uniform in an effort to clarify the rules for employees.

It also noted that it planned to observe a moment of silence on Remembrance Day and donate to the Royal Canadian Legion’s poppy campaign.

Several politicians condemned the policy before the reversal on the poppy issue was announced.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, who is a veteran, had said that the past sacrifices of Canadian soldiers “provides the freedom for a U.S. grocery chain to be stupid today.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had said the poppy policy was part of a broader issue at Whole Foods.

“It was wrong when they banned staff expressing support for Black Lives Matter and it’s wrong to ban the poppy,” he said, referencing an ongoing lawsuit in the United States.

A federal lawsuit filed in Boston on July 20 alleges that the supermarket chain disciplined, intimidated and retaliated against workers who wore Black Lives Matter face coverings earlier this year.

According to that lawsuit, store managers cited the company dress code, which prohibits slogans or logos not affiliated with the company, as the reason for prohibiting Black Lives Matter messages.

Other grocery chains took the opportunity Friday to highlight their own policies that embrace poppy-wearing.

“Our store teammates are finding unique ways to keep the spirit of Remembrance Day alive in this unprecedented year,” Sobeys tweeted, along with photos of prominent poppy displays, and a staff member wearing one of the pins.

Loblaws, meanwhile, was more direct.

“We allow and encourage our colleagues across the country to wear poppies. We have supported our veterans through poppy sales for years, and are making a donation to the Royal Canadian Legion,” the company tweeted.

— with files from The Associated Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Remembrance Day

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