May 11, 2009

Iowa Independent: "Ethical labor seal introduced for U.S. kosher eateries"

Shalom Chevreh -

As an introduction to the Iowa Independent piece below, Rabbi Morris Allen, one of the visionaries behind the Conservative Movement's "Magen Tzedek", wrote the following:

"Tuesday marks the the one year anniversary of the Postville raids.  It also marks the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer.  In our tradition, this day marks the day when the the plague affecting the students of Rabbi Akiva ceased.  Tradition relates that the pague was brought on by the apparent disregard the students had for the humanity of the other.  On Tuesday as Jews from minnesota and illinois gather to stand in solidarity with the residents of Postville we seek to redeem the memory of those 24,000 students who died by demonstrating our concern for the other and for each other."

Ethical labor seal introduced for U.S. kosher eateries

By Lynda Waddington 5/11/09 11:34 AM


One year after revelations of exploitative and abusive work practices at the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant made national headlines and shook the consciousness of the Jewish community, Uri L'Tzedek (Awaken to Justice), an Orthodox social justice movement, is publicly launching an ethical seal for kosher eating establishments.

"After seeing the pain and suffering inflicted by our own kosher industry on the stranger and the poor, the very people the Torah demands we protect, we realized we needed to be proactive and make a change," said Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and co-director of Uri L'Tzedek. "We asked ourselves how we, as Orthodox Jews, could create a system to protect the standards that Jewish law and ethics demand."

According to Yanklowitz, recent studies of New York City food establishments have revealed that thousands of restaurant workers are denied minimum wage, overtime and withstand abuse and harassment.

"We believed the Tav HaYosher would be a concrete, strategic way to make postivie change in the lives of the strangers within our gates — something demanded by Jewish Law," he said.

In order to receive the Tav HaYosher, kosher restaurants must meet specific guidelines designed to protect fair pay, fair time and a safe work environment. The standards include pay at or above minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped employees, overtime and break time allowance. Display of the seal will also inducate a work environment free of abuse, harassment and discrimination.

"Our campaign is a postive one," said Ari Hart, co-director of Uri L'Tzedek. "We're looking to offer the carrot, not the stick."

The American ethical seal developed by Uri L'Tzedek mirrors a similar campaign in Israel, known there as Tav Chevrati. The Israeli campaign has awarded its seal to more than 350 restaurants, and has trained compliance monitors to inspect restaurants every four to six weeks.

A similar U.S. movement — known as Hekhsher Tzedek — is a shared effort between the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and specifically targets kosher food manufacturers. The seal would be placed on manufactured kosher food products, along with the traditional kosher certification seal, as proof that the food was manufactured with ethical standards. The Hekhsher Tzedek anticipates a formal launch in either late summer or early fall.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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