The move comes after intense criticism reaching all the way up to the House of Commons on Friday prompted by a report from CBC News, citing an employee from an Ottawa Whole Foods location who said their supervisor compared wearing the poppy to “supporting a cause.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on Friday, saying the company had made a “silly mistake that I hope they will correct quickly,” and that Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay was expressing that directly to them to try to get the policy changed.
MacAulay issued a tweet shortly before 3 p.m. ET on Friday saying he had spoken with the chief operating officer of Whole Foods, and the company would allow employees to wear poppies.
“Our new unified dress code policy is intended to create consistency and ensure operational safety across all of our stores. 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,” said the company.
“We appreciate the thoughtful feedback we have received from our customers. Given the learnings of today, we are welcoming team members to wear the poppy pin in honour of Remembrance Day.”
The reversal from Whole Foods came after the company doubled down on the poppy ban earlier in the day, leading to members of the House of Commons unanimously condemning the ban on Friday.
MPs adopted a motion “to condemn Whole Foods and its owner Jeff Bezos for banning its employees from wearing poppies on their uniform, and demand that the policy be reversed immediately.”
They also adopted another motion unanimously inviting John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, to appear before the House of Commons veterans affairs committee within the next two weeks.
The order means that Mackey, an American, either must appear voluntarily or else run the risk that the committee will issue a formal summons to be delivered by bailiff next time he sets foot in Canada.
The poppy is non-political and is worn during the lead up to Remembrance Day across the country and by Canadians from all backgrounds, faiths and positions on the political spectrum as a symbol of respect.
Whole Foods repeatedly refused to answer questions about its reason for the ban on Friday morning.
Instead, it provided a statement that answered none of the questions sent by Global News asking for the specific reason behind the ban, citing instead its “dress code policy.”
“Whole Foods Market honours the men and women who have and continue to bravely serve their country. We support Remembrance Day in all of our Canadian stores by observing a moment of silence on November 11th and by donating to the Legion’s Poppy Campaign,” said a company spokesperson.
“With the exception of those items required by law, our dress code policy prohibits any additions to our standard uniform.”
However, the decision put the company — owned by American conglomerate Amazon — at odds with other Canadian grocery chains and broad public support for the wearing of poppies.
A spokesperson for Sobeys confirmed employees at the grocery chain are welcome to wear poppies, with the only exception being those who are actively preparing food because of the pin.
Jacquelin Weatherbee, spokesperson for Sobeys, said employees involved in food preparation often choose to wear a poppy sticker that the chain makes available through the Royal Canadian Legion.
“Our teammates proudly wear poppies in our stores. Honouring our veterans is a part of our rich history as a Canadian retailer,” she said in an email. “Our store teammates put together incredible in-store displays to honour Remembrance Day and work with the local legions to sell poppies and raise funds.”
Weatherbee added the company views the matter as a simple question of what is right.
“Wearing a poppy is just the right thing to do.”
Employees at Farm Boy, owned by the same parent company as Sobeys, are also permitted to wear their poppies while working, said a spokesperson for that chain.
Catherine Thomas, spokesperson for the Loblaw Ltd. firm that owns chains including Loblaws and Shoppers Drug Mart, said their employees can also wear the poppy.
“We absolutely allow our colleagues across the country to wear poppies, and in fact, encourage them to do so,” Thomas said in an email.
“We have supported our veterans through poppy sales for years, and understanding the challenges they may face this year specifically, we are making a donation to the Royal Canadian Legion.”
News of Whole Foods’ poppy ban quickly sparked broad condemnation on Friday.
The criticism came from across the political spectrum, with MacAulay, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford and NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus blasting the move.
MacAulay called the move “absolutely unacceptable” while Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, called it “outrageous.”
“Wake up, Whole Foods,” Rae tweeted. “In Canada we show respect to veterans and the thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice by wearing the poppy.”
O’Toole accused the American chain of “trying to be Woke Foods” while Ford called the move “disgusting and disgraceful,” calling for an immediate apology and reversal of the decision.
Ford also pledged to introduce provincial legislation banning employers from prohibiting staff from wearing poppies during the week before Remembrance Day.
Angus urged Canadians to shop elsewhere.
“No self-respecting Canadian would shop in a place run by Americans who tell us they don’t respect our poppy. Don’t give these creeps a dime of your money friends.”
Independent MP and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould also called the move “outrageous.”