>> Uri L'Tzedek Statement on Agriprocessors - July 8, 2008
For Immediate Release
On May 23rd of this year, Uri L'Tzedek wrote an open letter to Aaron Rubashkin, expressing how deeply upset we were by evidence of worker mistreatment in his company, Agriprocessors, and calling on the community of kosher consumers to join us in demanding change. Since the outset of our campaign, Uri L'Tzedek has sought protection and fair treatment for workers at Agriprocessors' Postville plant. Our effort has been guided by the spirit of Rabbi Yosef Breuer of blessed memory and his 1949 essay "Glatt Kosher - Glatt Yosher,â€ where he describes strict standards of kashrut and strict standards of ethics. As Rabbi Breuer wrote: "God's Torah not only demands the observance of kashrut and the sanctification of our physical enjoyment; it also insists on the sanctification of our social relationships."
The Jewish community in general and the observant community in particular are bound to the people who provide our food through the sacred social relationships of worker, employer, and consumer. Through this campaign, we have given voice to thousands of observant Jews who believe that the standards of kashrut of our food be matched by the kashrut of our ethics, and their voice has been heard loudly and clearly.
After the events of the May 11 federal raid at the Agriprocessors plant, and the release of government reports, affidavits, and media surrounding working conditions at the plant, thousands of observant Jews felt those sacred social relationships had been damaged. Uri L'Tzedek responded to those events with a letter that asked Agriprocessors to pay its workers a minimum wage and recommit to abiding by all U.S. law relating to worker safety and rights. In order to ensure that the company meets these modest requests, we asked that the company establish a department and staff to deal exclusively with these concerns.
In recent weeks, Agriprocessors retained James Martin, former Senior Federal U.S. Attorney to serve as Chief Compliance Officer for the company.. Mr. Martin has instituted a number of important reforms including: the creation of an anonymous tip line for employees to report safety and rights violations without fear of retribution; establishment of a safety department within the company that is staffed by an officer and assistant (with plans for two additional employees); and development of new safety training initiatives. Mr. Martin has also assured us that his term is expected to last at least one year. His role, according to communications between Uri L'Tzedek and Agriprocessors, is to set in place the procedures and personnel to ensure that the compliance effort is â€œcontinual, robust, and permanent.â€ Mr. Martin, a reputable and skilled attorney with years of experience prosecuting corporate crime, has now accepted on himself and his firm, the Prevene Group, the professional responsibility to ensure the company treats its workers with the respect, dignity, and rights that are demanded by U.S. law.
We believe that through hiring Mr. Martin, Agriprocessors is beginning to take significant steps towards directly addressing the concerns of the Jewish leaders and consumers who signed our May 23rd letter. In light of these early signs of reform, Uri L'Tzedek is no longer calling for the community to abstain from purchasing Agriprocessors' products. Time will show what kind of results these reforms will yield for the workers at Agriprocessors, but the social justice philosophy of Uri L'Tzedek is one deeply committed to challenging what is broken in our world but partnering to support efforts towards fixing it.
We are inspired by all the people throughout North America and the world who have raised their voice on this critical issue. Their participation in this effort has been the critical foundation of our work, and it has generated crucial moral awareness and has yielded impressive results. We are similarly thankful to the Agriprocessors corporation and the Rubashkin family, who by and large have engaged in a respectful dialogue.
If Agriprocessors does not implement Mr. Martin's recommendations or demonstrates that it is not committed to full compliance with all laws regarding worker safety, pay, and rights, then we will once again raise our concerns with Agriprocessors and with the community of kosher consumers.
There are still matters of great concern in Postville: shattered families left without wage earners, mothers unable to find jobs to pay for basic necessities, children thousands of miles from home living in fear of another raid, a broken Postville economy, and deeply flawed federal immigration policy. Addressing these larger issues is integral to our work as activists. Uri L'Tzedek leadership has helped raise significant funds for the families deeply hurt by the raids and has met with U.S. House and Senate staff, and has had a conversation with Senator Joseph Lieberman, Head of the Department of Homeland Security to express our concerns about the human suffering that results from these kinds of enforcement tactics.
These events strengthen our conviction that Klal Yisrael and the Orthodox community are committed to leading the way in creating a just society and sanctifying the Name of God. We believe that this campaign signals a new level of communal expectation of all our businesses to conduct themselves with the highest standards of yashrut and tzedek, ethics and justice.