Friday, July 20, 2007

Conservative Rabbis to Certify Labor Conditions at Kosher Slaugherhouses

Where Most Needed::

After an exposé of the kosher 'Jungle' of processing plants with substandard working conditions, two Conservative jewish associations work jointly to draft rules and enforceable standards for inspection.

Buried in a story in the Washington Post (Alan Cooperman) about the eco-kosher movement was a tale about a different kind of faith-based initiative involving the certification of working conditions in kosher slaughterhouses.

Back in 2004, an undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (EIN 52-1218336 Form 990) reported on inhumane kill methods at the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the US, the AgriProcessor plant in Postville, Iowa. Last summer, an investigative report in the Jewish Daily Forward (Nathaniel Popper) disclosed the abusive conditions that many of the 800 plant workers experience: $6.25 per hour wages, lack of training in dangerous equipment, and supervisors who take bribes to put workers on better shifts. There is no union at the plant, unlike competing plants of Empire Kosher and Hebrew National. Many of the workers are undocumented immigrants who fear exposure and deportation if they complain about the conditions at the facility. But recently there have been walk outs at the plant and lawsuits But recently there have been walk outs at the plant and lawsuits by workers claiming that the company has shorted them pay that they are entitled to under recent Supreme Court rulings.

In response, two groups of Conservative Jews, the Rabbinical Assembly of America (EIN 13-1663324, religious group, no Form 990) and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (EIN 13-1659707) established a joint commission and are in the process of developing a new heckscher tzedek certification for foods prepared under acceptable worker conditions (resolution #7 passed at the 2007 rabbinical assembly in April, page 11 of the pdf file).

There has been resistance from Orthodox rabbis, who feel that the additional certification will cause confusion with traditional kosher certifications. AgriProcessors is owned by Aaron Rubashkin, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community in Brooklyn, New York.

With so few kosher slaughterhouses in the US, it seems clear to me that these moves are just a way to bring pressure on AgriProcessors to clean up its act. But it shows the kind of creative thinking that can emerge when groups decide to work together.

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