Whole Foods, the nation’s largest organic grocer, is aiming to play a new role in the city of Chicago: a proponent of second chances and criminal justice reform. According to a post by Star Parker on Creators.com, the company is collaborating with the city to help prevent poverty in the area. One of the ways Whole Foods is achieving this goal is by using a progressive employee background check policy that makes it easier for ex-criminal offenders to compete for jobs.
The Whole Foods brand recently opened a new store in the Englewood community area. As Star Parker noted in the Creators.com report, "we usually think of Whole Foods as expensive upscale organic fare.” The community is known widely as one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, with high crime rates, prevalent gang activity, an active drug trade, and plummeting population levels.
According to reports, thanks to an assist from Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago, Whole Foods was able to build on a $3.1 million vacant Englewood lot almost for free. That incentive paired with tax breaks encouraged Whole Foods to set up shop in Englewood.
According to the Creators.com report, several of the employees at the new Whole Foods store have "jail or prison records." 35 of them are from Englewood, while 85 are from the broader Chicago South Side—also known for high crime levels. The store has hired over 100 people so far with the majority of hired individuals residing in those surrounding communities, according to reports.
Whole Foods is running background checks on all top candidates. Because Chicago and the state of Illinois have laws banning the box for private employers, the store could not ask about criminal history on its job applications. Instead, Whole Foods is running background checks on applicants who have been deemed hirable. The Creators.com report says that, in cases where a past offense showed up on a background check report, Whole Foods managers addressed those issues in one-on-one conversations with the applicants. The store has expressed a commitment to getting the applicant's side of the story before taking any action based on a background check report.
The organic foods store is taking similar approaches in other low-income areas including Detroit, New Orleans, and Newark.