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More People, Organizations Call for Changes at Agriprocessors
Uri L’Tzedek, a grassroots Orthodox social justice initiative, has penned a letter to Aaron Rubashkin, founder of the Agriprocessors Corporation, expressing displeasure with the company’s ethical practices. The letter, which makes demands for federal minimum wages, workplace and worker safety and ethical treatment, has drawn the approval of hundreds of U.S. kosher meat consumers.
“We only expected a few committed individuals to sign on initially,” explained Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and co-director of Uri L’Tzedek. “Instead, we’ve received hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails and phone calls of support, asking how to get involved, and where to find alternatives to Agriprocessors’ meat.”
Among the signers are 200 pulpit rabbis, Hillel directors, day school principals, educators and other Jewish community leaders.
“I think our community is realizing that there is a lot at stake here,” Yanklowitz said. “This is an opportunity for us to see whether or not we, as a religious community, can uphold the reputation of religious Jewry for being an ethical and moral people and to see if we can really take the ethics of Torah seriously. It’s an opportunity for our community to act with urgency and commitment to counteract the immense chillul hashem that’s been created.”
In Hebrew, “chillul hashem” means “desecration of God’s name.”
The letter makes three demands:
- Agriprocessors pay all its workers at least the federal minimum wage.
- Agriprocessors recommit to abide by all federal, state and local laws including those pertaining to worker safety, sexual harassment, physical abuse, and the rights of its employees to collective bargaining.
- Agriprocessors treat those who work for the company according to the standards that the Torah and halakha places on protecting workers — standards that include the spirit of lifnim meshurat hadin, meaning going beyond the bare minimum requirements of the law.
The letter by this organization comes on the heels of the Jewish Labor Committee calling for “Agriprocessors to live up to the responsibilities of corporate citizenship” and urging consumers of kosher meat products to seek alternatives to the Rubashkin labels.
Finding alternatives to Rubashkin’s meats, however, may be easier said than done.
Agriprocessors produces about 60 percent of the kosher meat and 40 percent of the kosher poultry in the U.S. market. The company’s brands include Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, European Glatt, Nevel, Shor Harbor, Rubashkin’s, Supreme Kosher, David’s and Iowa’s Best. Two-thirds of their products are nonkosher, and are sold through retailers including Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s. Sales of kosher beef and poultry in America are about $300 million annually, and a Dunn & Bradstreet report lists Rubashkin Industries, which includes real estate and other ventures in addition to meat, with an annual income of $84.9 million.
In April, roughly a month prior to the Immigration and Custom Enforcement action on the plant, Agriprocessors lost one of its three kosher supervising agencies. K’hal Adath Jeshurun ended its supervision of all Agriprocessors products effective April 15 in a letter sent to Aaron Rubashkin in December. The letter, while not revealing the reason for the change, did indicate that Agriprocessors had appealed the supervising agency’s original decision to terminate the relationship.
In addition People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animals’ rights group that sent an undercover worker to the Postville plant in 2004, wrote a letter to Gov. Chet Culver in the wake of the raid that encouraged him to “put pressure on applicable state and local authorities to revoke all operating licenses for Agriprocessors.”