By Bruce Horovitz
Whole Foods has a whole new language policy for its employees.
Just days after an online petition began to gather momentum after two Whole Foods employeessay they were suspendedfor speaking Spanish to each other on the job, the nation's largest natural foods chain has apologized for its unclear language policy -- and changed it.
Whole Foods Market co-CEO Walter Robb posted this statement on his blog on Friday: "On behalf of our senior leadership team, I apologize that a section of our employee handbook regarding team member interactions in the workplace was not clearly written, and for any misunderstandings or offense it has created," Robb said. "Its intention was to foster inclusion, not exclusion. We have changed the wording of this section and will ensure the new wording and more importantly, the intention behind it, is reviewed and discussed at all store and facility meetings, which will be within 45 days' time."
The move came shortly after activists from the organization MoveOn.org delivered a petition started by ProgressNow New Mexico to Whole Foods headquarters in Austin to demand that the company end its "English only" policy in stores. The petition amassed more than 15,000 signatures in about one week. Those who signed said they would boycott shopping at Whole Foods.
For Whole Foods, a chain whose natural and organic food offerings tend to attract a large number of shoppers with liberal political views, the petition has been a thorn in its image. The move is expected to nudge other retailers to revise or reconsider their language policies, too.
On Thursday, activists from MoveOn.org delivered the petition to Whole Foods headquarters in Austin to demand that the company end its "English-only" policy in stores.
"We are thankful that the company listened to its customers and was willing to revise its policies to reflect the growing diversity of our communities," says Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, an advocacy organization based in Albuquerque.
Robb says it's been a learning experience for Whole Foods.
"This incident in New Mexico provided us the opportunity to revise language in our handbook, which does not reflect and does not align with the spirit of this company or our track record of respect and appreciation for our team members over the past 33 years," Robb added.
"We hope and believe our revised language unequivocally communicates our support for our team members to honor and celebrate their cultures by speaking the language they prefer, while also helping to ensure a safe, respectful and courteous work and shopping environment," said Robb in the blog post.
The brouhaha began after two employees, based in Albuquerque, said they were suspended for complaining to a manager about a reprimand they had received for speaking Spanish to each other while on the job. Whole Foods said the two employees were suspended for poor behavior, not for speaking Spanish.
"This action shows just how effective grass-roots voices can be to effect change," says Marsha Garcia of ProgressNow New Mexico.