US Orthodox NGO nixes boycott of Agriprocessors

Decision comes after Agriprocessors undertook a "number of important reforms."

UltraOrthodoxJews 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
UltraOrthodoxJews 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Orthodox social justice group Uri L'Tzedek has called off a boycott of Agriprocessors' products less than a month after it began, following what it sees as a "number of important reforms" instituted by the company. The Postville, Iowa-based company is the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the United States. Its kosher products are marketed under the brand names Aaron's Best and Rubashkins. Former US attorney James Martin, hired by Agriprocessors as a compliance officer, assured the NGO in conversations over the past week that the company has begun to take "significant steps" toward addressing concerns of Jewish leaders and consumers. "He has assured us he is not a short-term fix," said Shmuly Yanklowitz, co-director of Uri L'Tzedek. "He is committed to addressing our concerns and to creating permanent solutions." The steps already taken include the creation of an anonymous tip line for employees to report safety and rights violations, a new safety department and safety training initiatives. "In light of these early signs of reform, Uri L'Tzedek is no longer calling for the community to abstain from purchasing Agriprocessors' products," the group said in a statement on Tuesday. "Time will show what kind of results these reforms will yield for the workers at Agriprocessors." On May 12 US Immigration and Customs Enforcement staged a raid on the plant that was described as the largest in US history. Hundreds of illegal immigrant workers were arrested, including 290 Guatemalans, 93 Mexicans, four Ukrainians and two Israelis. Employees have since claimed they were underpaid and abused. Agriprocessors officials deny the allegations and the federal government has yet to bring any charges against the company's owners. Uri L'Tzedek warned Tuesday that should Agriprocessors fail to implement Martin's recommendations or to demonstrate "full compliance" with laws on worker safety, pay, and rights, they would once again raise concerns with the company and kosher consumers. The group also called attention to problems that persist in Postville including families left without work who are unable to pay for necessities and a "deeply flawed" federal immigration policy. "Addressing these larger issues is integral to our work as activists." Uri L'Tzedek said they had helped raise funds for the families hurt by the raids, in addition to holding meetings with US House and Senate staff, and a conversation with Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, to express concerns about the consequences of current enforcement tactics. Meanwhile, according to reports in Iowa's DesMoines Register newspaper, the son and grandson of the founder of Agriprocessors are facing potential prison terms on federal charges related to hazardous waste. Moshe Rubashkin of Brooklyn pleaded guilty in February to illegal storage of hazardous waste without a permit. His son Sholom pleaded guilty to making a false statement to federal officials. Each of the men faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. The pleas were the result of a deal with prosecutors relating to the Rubashkins' ownership of Montex Textiles of Pennsylvania. The Rubashkins were storing containers of hazardous waste at the site without the required environmental permits two years after the company closed. Moshe Rubashkin is expected to be sentenced on Wednesday. His son is scheduled for sentencing on July 21.