Whole Foods Issues Bilingual Statement in Response to “Misleading” AP Story

Jun 7, 2013
7:14 PM

Late yesterday, Whole Foods issued a formal bilingual statement in response to an Associated Press story about how two employees of the Austin-based company were suspended one day at a New Mexico store for speaking Spanish during work hours and violating policy. The original AP story went viral on social media, and our own @julito77 wrote an NBC Latino opinion column that included additional clarification from Whole Foods.


Part of what Whole Foods shared in the NBC Latino column was used in the formal statement they later shared with the media:

Whole Foods Market® responds to AP story about Spanish speaking team members

Article is misleading; company celebrates and honors our diverse team members

AUSTIN, Texas (June 6, 2013) – At Whole Foods Market, we do not have “no foreign languages spoken” policies in any of our stores. Our policy is that the default language is English, for consistent communication, inclusion, and especially for safety and emergency situations. We want our team members to use their judgment about when it’s appropriate to speak other languages. We are proud of our multilingual team members and try to work with customers in other languages whenever needed!

The facts are: two team members in New Mexico became upset when they believed they were told in a team meeting they could not speak Spanish at work. That was not what was communicated. They were suspended with pay due to rude and disrespectful behavior. Their suspension was due to their behavior alone, not for speaking Spanish.

Nevertheless, the store leadership launched a full investigation and seventeen team members who also attended the meeting confirmed that the language policy was discussed, and at no time were the two team members told they could not speak Spanish.

We will be looking at written guidelines across our multiple regions on this front to ensure clarity.


Whole Foods Market® responde al relato de AP sobre los miembros del equipo que hablan en español
El artículo no explica todo el asunto; la empresa celebra y honra la diversidad de los miembros de nuestro equipo

AUSTIN, Texas (6 de junio de 2013). En Whole Foods Market, no tenemos una política de “prohibido hablar en idiomas extranjeros” en ninguna de nuestras tiendas. Nuestra política es que el inglés es el idioma por defecto, para lograr comunicaciones uniformes, inclusión, y sobre todo por motivos de seguridad y en situaciones de emergencia. Nuestro deseo es que los miembros del equipo usen su buen criterio acerca de cuándo es adecuado hablar en otro idioma. Nos enorgullecemos de tener miembros del equipo que hablan más de un idioma, y que se prestan a trabajar con nuestros clientes en otro idioma cuando es necesario.

Los hechos son los siguientes: dos miembros del equipo en Nuevo México se disgustaron cuando creyeron comprender en una reunión del equipo que no podían hablar en español en el trabajo. Eso no fue lo que se les dijeron los líderes de la tienda. Los dos miembros de equipo fueron suspendidos por su comportamiento grosero y descortés. La suspensión se debió solamente a su comportamiento, y no al hecho de que hablaran en español.

No obstante, la dirección de la tienda inició una investigación a fondo y diecisiete miembros del equipo que también asistieron a la reunión confirmaron que se analizó la política sobre los idiomas, y que en ningún momento se dijo a los dos miembros del equipo que no podían hablar en español.

Sin embargo, revisaremos las directrices escritas sobre este asunto en todas nuestras regiones, para garantizar que el concepto esté claramente expresado.

Meanwhile, the AP’s Russell Contreras, who wrote the original story, tweeted this afternoon that Whole Foods will be reviewing its language policy:


Contreras’ story included details of a press conference that was held in front of the Alburqueque Whole Foods store where the suspensions occurred. Here is an excerpt of what Contreras reported:

…Ralph Arellanes, state director of the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens, said the company has a week to change the [language] policy before advocates will launch a nationwide boycott of Whole Foods.

“I will give them a period of seven days to implement a new policy, which includes (dropping) this policy, or we will hold them accountable,” Arellanes said.

Letton said during the review of the policy, Whole Foods Market Inc. will speak with various civil rights groups.

“We are also in the process of reaching out to groups like LULAC to discuss the issue and hear their perspective,” she said.

NBC Latino confirmed LULAC’s intentions:

The New Mexico store has launched an investigation into the incident and the company says it will be reviewing its guidelines. But they may only have a limited amount of time before the natural food giant starts losing customers. The New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens said the company has one week to change the policy before they launch a boycott.