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Amazon’s Whole Foods Reverses Poppy Ban After Angering Canada

Danielle Bochove, Kait Bolongaro and Matt Day
·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain owned by Amazon.com Inc., reversed a decision to forbid Canadian staff from wearing poppies to commemorate fallen soldiers.

The company ignited a political storm when it told employees they could not wear the small red flowers, which are ubiquitous on the left lapels of politicians, celebrities and millions of Canadians in the days leading up to Nov. 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. The chain had cited a policy that prohibits any additions to its standard uniform.

Politicians across parties and levels of government took to social media to denounce the ban and the chain began to trend on Twitter, along with the hashtag #LestWeForget and calls for a boycott.

“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,” Whole Foods spokesperson Rachel Malish said in an email Friday afternoon. “Given the learnings of today, we are welcoming team members to wear the poppy pin in honor of Remembrance Day.”

Parliamentary Vote

The uproar had reached the highest levels of government. Lawmakers in Canada’s legislature unanimously passed three motions on the issue. In addition to calling on all Canadian employers to allow staff to wear poppies, they condemned Whole Foods’ policy and invited Chief Executive Officer John Mackey to appear before the House veterans committee to explain himself -- voluntarily or at the enforcement of a summons the next time he’s in Canada.

Shortly after the reversal, Lawrence MacAulay, Canada’s veterans affairs minister, tweeted his satisfaction.

Whole Foods’ dress code has also come under fire in the U.S. Some employees complained earlier this year that the company was preventing them from showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Earlier, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had also urged the company to reconsider its views on poppies. “I think Whole Foods has made a silly mistake that I am hoping they will correct very quickly,” he said at a news conference.

Conservative opposition leader Erin O’Toole had labeled the chain “Woke Foods” in a video outside parliament in Ottawa. “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,” he said.

The poppy has become a symbol of remembrance in other Commonwealth countries but its origins are Canadian. Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, of Guelph, Ontario, immortalized the scarlet flower in May of 1915, when he penned the poem “In Flanders Fields” on a scrap of paper after the death of a fellow soldier in Belgium.

Scores of Canadian children recite the poem each year, which begins: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row/That mark our place...”

(Updates with news that Whole Foods will allow staff to wear poppies)

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