If you were a professional baker and a client asked you to frost a message on a cake that contradicted your core beliefs, would you do it? In recent weeks, Wal-Mart has been critiqued because of a controversial decision made by its employees. #BoycottWalmart swept Facebook last week after employees in the bakery department of an Atlanta area Wal-Mart refused to decorate a ‘Blue Lives Matter’ cake.
21-year-old Jordan Hawkins, who ordered the cake for a celebration of her father’s retirement from the local police force, told conservative radio host Todd Starnes that a Wal-Mart employee informed her that neither they or any of their colleagues felt comfortable frosting ‘Blue Lives Matter’ on the cake. Hawkins shared this experience with her friend Taylor Wilkes, who created the viral Facebook post.
In their outrage, Hawkins, Starnes, and Wilkes have all forgotten about arguably the most important characters in this whole scene: the Wal-Mart employees themselves.
CAS freshman Evelyn Hall, who spent much of the summer working for a bakery in her home state of California, knows firsthand that some customers can put their own needs above those of the people serving them.
“I think it’s great that the employees took a stand,” Hall said. “I can understand boycotting in principle because being denied a cake could hinder your freedom of speech, but refusing to make the cake is taking a stand that also expresses freedom of speech.”
Wilkes’ Facebook post garnered national attention after being shared over 5,500 times, causing Wal-Mart to issue a public apology for the incident to Hawkins, make the cake Hawkins requested and give her a $50 giftcard to the store.
“Our goal is to always take care of customers. But, sometimes we misstep,” a Wal-Mart spokesperson said in the apology. “We’ve reached out to the family to make this right.”
Many believe, however, that the company’s true misstep was in not standing behind their employees. LS sophomore Juhi Dalal shares that belief.
“This is why most stores have signs that say they have the right to refuse service,” Dalal said. “It’s not fair to make someone do something that they’re not comfortable with because of their personal beliefs. I strongly believe that people should be comfortable and feel safe where they work.”
Wal-Mart has refused to put racially charged images on cakes in 2015, refusing to make a confederate flag cake after implementing a store-wide ban on confederate flag products. This instance, however, was different. Wal-Mart itself did not take a stand or protect that of their employees. They simply tried to save face.
“The way the meeting [between the store’s manager and Hawkins] was described to me was that it was very scripted and not very sincere,” Wilkes wrote in a follow up to her original post. “So, although the mistake was ‘made right,’ I will still not be shopping at Wal-Mart due to the ‘quality’ of employees they hire.”
Dalal, on the other hand, believes Wilkes’ criticisms of Wal-Mart to be unfair.
“It’s not fair to boycott Wal-Mart for taking care of their employees, and its not fair for Wal-Mart to not take care of their employees,” Dalal said.
Wal-Mart has not disclosed whether the employees involved were reprimanded or terminated, but one can hope that the company’s public actions are not indicative of how the matter was handled internally.
Email Taylor Nicole Rogers at [email protected]