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Uri L’Tzedek Ends Agriprocessors Boycott

Uri L’Tzedek – the Orthodox social justice organization that called for an official boycott of Agriprocessors’ products after the May 12th raid, ended their boycott this week, a little less than one month after it began. The Jewish Week reported in an article this week that Uri L’Tzedek’s leaders felt that Agriprocessors had taken enough “significant steps” to make them feel comfortable purchasing their products again.

Hazon’s Executive Director, Nigel Savage, is also quoted in the article, saying that the Agriprocessors scandal has stirred the Jewish community to think more deeply about where its food comes from. The particular impact that Uri L’Tzedek’s statement will have on other kosher keeping consumers, however, remains to be seen.

Read the article below the jump, or click here.


Group Ends Agriprocessors Boycott
The Jewish Week
By: Debra Nussbaum Cohen

The main organization urging a boycott against the embattled kosher meat giant Agriprocessors reversed course this week, issuing a statement praising “significant steps” taken by the manufacturer and lauding “early signs of reform.”

In announcing the end of its boycott, Shmuly Yanklowitz, director of Uri L’Tzedek (Awaken to Justice), told The Jewish Week, “There has been a victory in the last week.”

Jim Martin, a former U.S. attorney hired by Agriprocessors last month as its new corporate compliance officer, has been “really working with us and assuring us of his level of commitment and that he’s putting practices in place that assure the sustainability of reforms,” Yanklowitz said.

The reforms, all related to worker treatment, include guarantees that the line workers at the Postville, Iowa, kosher meat manufacturer get paid at least the legal minimum wage and receive adequate training and safety precautions at the slaughterhouse, where beef, poultry and lamb are killed and processed.

On May 12, 389 illegal immigrants were arrested there in the largest-ever raid by federal immigration authorities. Most are now serving five-month prison sentences and will be deported back to their home countries immediately upon release. According to local news reports, the raid decimated the local economy of Postville, where AgriProcessors employed about 900 people.

The affidavit accompanying the sweeping arrests outlined allegations against unnamed Agriprocessors supervisors, most relating to the exploitation of the vulnerable illegal aliens who had been hired, some of them teenagers.

Two of those supervisors, Juan Carlos Guerrero-Espinoza and Martin De La Rosa-Loera, were arrested on criminal immigration and identity fraud charges last week. Another supervisor is still at large.

No charges directly connected to the immigration raid have been filed against Aaron Rubashkin, who owns Agriprocessors, or the family members who managed the company for him.

Nonetheless, the business has been damaged, says the public relations exec Rubashkin recently hired. In fact, according to Juda Engelmayer, a senior vice president at 5WPR, Rubashkin is planning to shortly bring some 20 Orthodox community leaders and journalists to Postville to tour the slaughterhouse. “Part of it is goodwill, part of it is trying to get the message to people in the community,” said Engelmayer of the planned trip’s goal.

Despite importing homeless people from Texas to work at its Iowa plant, the company has been unable to return to its pre-raid staffing levels. Last week, just 60 to 70 percent of positions were filled, Engelmayer said. Local kosher butchers and supermarkets report that they are getting less Agriprocessors meat, and at higher prices, than they did before the raid.

And legal problems continue to trail members of the Rubashkin family. According to an article this week in the Des Moines Register, Agriprocessors paid $1.4 million last year to settle allegations that it fraudulently hid the assets of another company, Allou Distributors. Allou, a pharmaceutical company, filed for bankruptcy in 2003, shortly after its Brooklyn warehouse went up in flames. Its principal, Herman Jacobowitz, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to return $177 million to the investors he defrauded. While Agriprocessors executives were never individually charged with criminal wrongdoing, the company agreed to pay the $1.4 million to settle the trustee’s claims that it accepted payments of about twice that much from Allou, without selling them anything in return.

Much gristle is being chewed over in the press and the blogosphere about the various practices employed at Agriprocessors. But out of the controversy has also come a new consciousness about a Jewish way of eating beyond fulfilling the technical requirements of kashrut.

According to Nigel Savage, executive director of Hazon, a Jewish environmental group, the Agriprocessors issue is spurring a thoughtful discussion among Jews.

“One of the fascinating things about what’s happening now is that it pulls together a series of things we should be thinking of,” Savage said. “When you eat food, ideally you should be thinking about how it was produced, transported and packaged, who produced it and under what circumstances?

“The controversy,” he continued, “has simply caused a much larger number of people to start to think about where their meat comes from and the circumstances of its production.”

His own eyes were opened eight years ago, Savage said, when he and four others on Hazon’s first cross-country fundraising bike ride stopped in Postville and toured the facility.

Two of the five Hazon members became vegan — deciding not to consume any animal products — “on the spot,” Savage said, and continue to be vegan to this day.

But the visit also caused Savage to appreciate what took place there. “For the first time in my life, I had a real sense that these people were doing a mitzvah on my behalf,” he said. “I don’t believe one should be attacking the kosher meat industry per se.” The goal, Savage said, is to improve it.

What’s more, disparate organizations within the Jewish community — some focused on food, others on immigration, and others still on labor issues — have been coalescing, for the first time, to oppose Agriprocessors’ practices.

Late last month Hazon, along with hunger-relief organization Mazon, Minnesota-based Jewish Community Action, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Kol Foods and Jews United for Justice, came together to call attention to “the human tragedy” of the immigration raids, and to call for “long-term structural change” in the kosher meat industry.

They also endorsed Heksher Tzedek, a Conservative movement-based group with the goal of working toward ethical standards in all aspects of kosher food production and sales.

“One of the genuinely significant things is that this pulls together people who have historically only been interested in one piece of this story,” Savage said.

Last week America’s Voice, a newly formed organization that advocates for immigration reform, convened a conference call of Jewish groups including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Jewish Labor Committee and Heksher Tzedek. They called for “a more sensible immigration policy in this country.”

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9 Responses to “Uri L’Tzedek Ends Agriprocessors Boycott”

  1. Stephen Mendelsohn Says:

    BS”D

    Uri L’Tzedek may have dropped the boycott because of bullying from Rubashkin hired agents such as 5W Public Relations and pressure from the OU, RCA and other Rubashkin supporters and not really because of any genuine change at AgriProcessors. Failed Messiah is now claiming that 5W PR massively sockpuppeted on his blog, including impersonations of Rabbi Morris Allen of Hechsher Tzedek and tow other critics, and he clearly has the IP address evidence to prove it. There is further evidence of 5W PR sockpuppeting on other blogs on behalf of AgriProcessors ever since the agency was hired by Agri to to improve its tarnished public image.

    It seems that these young rabbinical students may have been naive and never knew what they were really up against — they were probably rudely shocked at the intimidation they got when meeting four Rubashkin reps at that Manhattan dairy restaurant. To go from being intimidated to calling off the boycott shortly thereafter does not make any sense except as a means of avoiding such threats. The Forward notes Rabbi Allen is clearly worried for his safety after the 5W impersonation fraud.

  2. Larry Lennhoff Says:

    I also think calling off the boycott is premature, and I’m not ending my personal boycott, which has been going on for over 6 months Agriprocessor’s has consistently shown they only respond to pressure, not good intentions. Now is not the time to let up on the pressure.

  3. judi Says:

    Personally, I haven’t bought anything (or knowingly eaten anything) from this company since that PETA video came to light. And everything that has gone down since has served to bolster my conviction. Add to that the new information that shows that the PR firm that this company hired to scrape the tarnish from its image has managed to make the whole mess appear even dirtier than before. Meat isn’t a necessity. Boycott or no boycott; I don’t want it, I’m not buying it.

  4. Leah Koenig Says:

    Stephen, thanks for your comments. It is truly depressing to think that a company might stoop that low. Depressing for the consumer and just to think about how desperate a company must be to go to all that trouble.

    Thanks Larry – your point is well taken.

    Judi – I think you raise a good point that boycott or not, there are many other questions surrounding Agriprocessors’ business practices/ethics that remain unanswered…

  5. T is for Tomato Says:

    The boycott hasn’t ended in my house!

  6. Stephen Mendelsohn Says:

    BS”D

    This 5W Public Relations story seems to get even more bizzare by the hour. JTA and Failed Messiah have both now traced sockpuppeted posts on their sites to 5W VP and AgriProcessors spokesperson Juda Engelmayer. 5W CEO Ronn Torossian has essentially admitted that a “senior staffer” did it and justified the sockpuppeting, including the Rabbi Allen impersonation fraud, on the need to protect kashrut from haters of Chabad and Orthodoxy. 5W is still on the Agri payroll, which means that Agri implicitly approves of these thuggish tactics.

    Failed Messiah wonders whether Torossian may have bullied another of his agency’s clients, Rabbi Avi Weiss, dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, into calling off the Uri L’Tzedek boycott.

    http://failedmessiah.typepad.c.....wpr-c.html

  7. Marisa Says:

    Thanks for teaching me the word “sockpuppeting”! PR agencies get paid to spin the news favorably for their clients. It would be naive for a company not to hire a PR Agency after doing something despicable, and it would be incomplete service to their client for the PR agency to ignore the blogosphere. Therefore, the fault still lies with the Management of the company who allowed despicable things to go on in the first place. Kudos to bloggers who are aware that this goes on!

  8. Rabbi Shmuel Says:

    “It seems that these young rabbinical students may have been naive and never knew what they were really up against — they were probably rudely shocked at the intimidation they got when meeting four Rubashkin reps at that Manhattan dairy restaurant.

    Hey Steve – why do you feel the need to create some sort of religious patina with your wholly unnecessary use of “BSD” on your post and then proceed to commit rechilus on a truly basis?

    “The Forward notes Rabbi Allen is clearly worried for his safety after the 5W impersonation fraud.”

    Don’t you think “worrying for his safety” is a tad extreme by way of reactions to a phony blog post? But it underscores the “thuggish” imagery that Scotty creates at Failed Messiah. Yet despite it’s second hand, innuendo nature you post it as gospel under your little trademark BSD.

    Why not just lose the “BSD” affectation and then you may continue to be oiver d’oraisas with impunity. (Or why not just acknowledge that by starting each post with some veneer of halachic credibilty you share more than a passing resemblance to the folks you repeatedly lambast?)

    I agree however that the 5W folks should learn how to do truly effective PR from “fearing for his safety” Morris Allen

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