In 2004, when PETA released footage from the kill floor of AgriProcessors, the nation’s largest kosher meat packing plant, people were appalled to learn that identification with kashrut and Judaism does not necessarily imply humane treatment of animals. Now, we are learning that this fact applies to treatment of humans as well. The immigrant worker’s experience is never far from the collective Jewish memory. Based on this, and the ethical standards mandated by Jewish law, one would expect that Jewish corporations would be above, or at least at, par when it comes to treatment of their workers. Sadly, this is not always the case. AgriProcessors has been accused of seriously mistreating its largely Hispanic immigrant work force and although Jews have left the sweatshops, they still own a large number of them, most notably in L.A.
“In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher
Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury’, Short Pay,” by Nathaniel Popper, came out in the Forward in late May. Interviews with dozens of Hispanic immigrant workers at the plant, along with local religious leaders and union organizers, revealed the substandard conditions that many of the workers experience. Faced with long hours, low pay (among the lowest in the slaughterhouse industry), and dangerous conditions (they receive very little safety training), the workers have nowhere to turn. “Being here,” said an anonymous woman quoted in the article, “you see a lot of injustice. But it’s a small town. It’s the only factory here. We have no choice.”
Noted writer on Jewish food, Joan Nathan, told Lilith that “eco-kashrut is going to be a bigger issue in the future, and violations of workers’ rights like this are only the tip of the iceberg…. People are more and more thinking about how animals are handled. I have spoken to many Jews who follow the laws of kashrut who would rather buy a humanely slaughtered nonkosher piece of steak or chicken, for example, than a kosher inhumanely slaughtered one.”