Life & Love

Should You Be Worried About Wayfair and Human Trafficking?

As if 2020 couldn’t get anymore bonkers. In a year that’s already given us a global pandemic, the routine killing of Black and Indigenous people by police and an overwhelming amount of Twitter content featuring realistic objects that are actually cake, we now have a conspiracy theory involving online furniture companies and child trafficking to contend with. On July 10, home furnishin retailer Wayfair started trending on Twitter and it was for a pretty nefarious reason. According to Mashable, on July 9, users on Reddit’s r/conspiracy subreddit started positing that the site—or potentially third-party sellers on the site—were secretly part of a child trafficking ring. And this didn’t come out of nowhere. The theory started when a user posted a screenshot of abnormally high-priced cabinets from the Wayfair’s site, noting that the names were unusual and unlike other furniture pieces on the site. According to those on the subreddit, a quick search of the names, which included monikers such as Neriah and Samiyah, found that they were the same names as several missing children.

Is it possible Wayfair involved in Human trafficking with their WFX Utility collection? Or are these just extremely overpriced cabinets? (Note the names of the cabinets) this makes me sick to my stomach if it’s true 🙁 from conspiracy

This led many online to speculate and theorize a truly horrific allegation: that the company is engaged in child trafficking. Soon after starting on Reddit, the theories picked up steam on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Here’s everything you need to know about the Wayfair child trafficking allegations.

OK, so what exactly is Wayfair?

For those who aren’t into interior design, or just really love Ikea (and who could blame you?), the name Wayfair may not be super familiar. Founded in 2002, the online home store sells furniture and accessories. And unlike Ikea and other furniture stores like Structube, many of the pieces sold on are from different companies and not their own in-house brand.

This is far from the first time the company has come under scrutiny for reported bad behaviour. In June 2019, employees of the furniture brand walked off the job in protest of the company’s low-key support of the Trump government’s anti-migrant policy and detainment camps. ICYMI, Wayfair had a deal in which they provided government contractors with beds for the camps that house detained migrants at the United States border (camps that have been referred to by U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “mass concentration camps”). Despite the fact that at the time, Wayfair employees requested the company terminate this contract, the company did not oblige.

So yeah, not everyone are big fans of the company—and for very valid reasons.

What are the conspiracy theories around Wayfair?

As inhumane and wrong as the detainment camps in the U.S. are, these latest accusations against Wayfair are even more alarming. As mentioned above, theories that Wayfair is involved in human trafficking (specifically the trafficking of children) arose after a user noted utility closets and storage units for sale on the site, priced between $12,000 to $14,500—price points they felt were exorbitant. “Is it possible Wayfair involved in Human trafficking with their WFX Utility collection?” the user wrote alongside a photo of the cabinets in question. “Or are these just extremely overpriced cabinets? (Note the names of the cabinets) this makes me sick to my stomach if it’s true :(.”

Read this next: FYI, Boycotting Wayfair *Isn’t* The Best Way to Help Migrants

Is it possible Wayfair involved in Human trafficking with their WFX Utility collection? Or are these just extremely overpriced cabinets? (Note the names of the cabinets) this makes me sick to my stomach if it’s true 🙁 from conspiracy

As fact-checking website Snopes notes, because of this initial post, users online started to search for *other* home goods on the site that were similarly oddly priced. As the website notes, one user on Twitter shared a set of pillows and a shower curtain listed at $9,999 (which is a Drake-level price for something like pillow cases). When compared to similar items—listed at only $99.99, for instance—the user decided that the discrepancy in prices must be attributed to the fact that the first listing was actually a listing for purchasing a child. The user tweeted (then deleted): “If you search bungalow rose a bunch of shower curtains and pillows show up priced at $9,999. Wayfair is fucking trafficking children what the FUCK. Same with other things. They all have big price jumps to like 10 grand. Wayfair also supplies the furniture at ICE detention centers, where children are going MISSING from.”

As Snopes states in the same article: “This claim is largely based on the idea that $10,000 is simply too expensive for a cabinet, and that there has to be some other explanation — child trafficking — to justify its cost.”

More allegations soon cropped up on social media. Per MediaWise—a Poynter-run non-profit project that teaches Americans how to sort fact from fiction online—many Twitter users began claiming that searching the Stock Unit Number (SKU) for each Wayfair product on Russian search engine Yandex, which is similar to Google, brought up photos of female children. News organization Newsweek later reported this is untrue.

And, in addition to all of this, an additional theory arose regarding a specific 2016 review of a filing cabinet, priced at $5,000. Per Newsweekin 2016 a user named Janna from Walnut Creek, CA (an area outside San Francisco), published a review on this particular product. (FWIW, Janne wrote: “Checked many other sites and this was a great deal! Fast shipping. Thank you!”). In February of this year, a man in Walnut Creek was arrested for  human trafficking, child pornography and attempted kidnapping. According to The Mercury News, this arrest led to the uncovering of a much larger sex trafficking ring in the area.

Read this next: Here’s What You Need to Know Before Going to a Patio

What does a February 2020 arrest have to do with a 2016 review by someone who sounds like a lady from your mom’s book club? Nothing, most likely. But many people online have claimed the two incidents are linked.

There have also been unsubstantiated and unverified reports that Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah has stepped down amid the allegations [FLARE has reached out to Wayfair for comment on this], which has only helped to fuel rumours of trafficking more.

And what does this have to do with Ghislaine Maxwell?

Perhaps because this Wayfair conspiracy theory is happening shortly after the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein co-conspirator and former GF Ghislaine Maxwell, there have been attempts to connect Wayfair to the now-deceased disgraced billionaire. A 2003 photo of Maxwell—who was arrested on July 2 on charges that she helped recruit, groom and abuse minors—has gone viral in light of the allegations against the company, with many people online claiming that the man beside Maxwell is president of operations for Wayfair, Bill Hutcherson. But as Heavy states in a July 12 article, this claim is not true. An April 28, 2004 photo round-up in Tatler—taken at the December 2003 Asprey’s New York Flagship launch—in which Maxwell is wearing the same outfit and pictured with the same man, identifies him as George Bamford. Bamford is the founder of Bamford Watch Design, a company that launched in 2004 and which specializes in high-end watch customization.

In addition, Wayfair (which launched in 2002 under the name CSN Stores, according to Heavy), has never had a “president of operations” on its payroll. So, it would appear that the company doesn’t have any overt links to Epstein and Maxwell.

How did these human trafficking theories about Wayfair start?

According to Newsweek, who spoke with Reddit user PrincessPeach1987 (the user refused to reveal their real name), the theory originated after the poster began to search garage storage with their husband. The poster told Newsweek that while they were initially not suspicious of the pricing, additional posts on Facebook purporting similar scenarios caused them to become suspicious. According to the outlet, the user said they are “involved in a local organization that helps victims of human trafficking,” which has led them to be “suspicious most of the time now.” Per the outlet, they characterized their Reddit post as an effort to “see if anyone else had more details.”

The Wayfair conspiracy theory follows several other theories of international pedophilia rings involving celebrities and high-ranking officials, like Pizzagate.

What is Wayfair’s response to the conspiracy theory?

Since news of the theory began circulating, the company has denied any involvement with child trafficking. In a statement to Newsweek, Wayfair said: “There is, of course, no truth to these claims. The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced. Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we have temporarily removed the products from site to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point.”

So, is this true?

Unlike the IRL facts and legitimate evidence against Wayfair when it came to outfitting migrant detainment camps, these latest theories appear to be untrue (and in fact, Snopes has labelled the allegations definitively as a hoax). Which is good to know and have clarified. Something else that should be made crystal clear? The fact that conspiracy theories like this are *extremely* dangerous. Not only does it spread massive disinformation (often to people who may not be aware of ways to properly fact-check these allegations) thanks in large part to the viral nature and longevity of content on the internet, but they also do a disservice to the very real and very harmful reality of human sex trafficking in North America.

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In Canada, human trafficking—especially of children and teens—is incredibly prevalent. 2016 data from Statistics Canada on human trafficking (the most recent stats to date) found that 72% victims of human trafficking were under 25 years old and 90% of sex trafficking victims are females. And circulating unsubstantiated hoaxes like these minimize the importance of, not to mention detract attention and resources away from, these real victims and perpetrators. And, these unsubstantiated conspiracy theories can have almost dire consequences. In 2016, a North Carolina man walked into a Washington D.C. pizzeria with a semiautomatic rifle, handgun and a folding knife, under the guise that he was saving captive children from a satanic sex ring run by Hillary Clinton in the basement of the pizzeria, a theory reported by InfoWars host Alex Jones (InfoWars is a far-right American conspiracy theory and fake news website). As reported by Rolling Stone in a November 2017 article on the consequences of hoaxes and fake news, there were no children being held captive and the pizzeria didn’t even have a basement.

The idea of a furniture company selling children is absolutely appalling—and it’s entirely understandable that people would hear these allegations and get upset. It’s also crucial that people look deeper into allegations and theories on the internet before posting or re-posting said claims.

FLARE has reached out to Wayfair for comment. The article will be updated with their response

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