After Scandal, Slow Start for Ethical Certification

Magen Tzedek Yet to Put Stamp on Any Kosher Products

By Seth Berkman

Published October 03, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
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It was a May 2006 article in the Forward that spurred Allen’s idea for Magen Tzedek. The article reported on mistreatment of low-wage workers at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, then the world’s largest kosher slaughterhouse.

According to the Magen Tzedek website, in 2008 a commission was formed to create and apply a set of standards that would certify “that kosher food manufacturers in the U.S. operate according to Jewish ethics and social values.”

In May 2010, Allen told The Jewish Week that he expected to have 15 food producing companies on board within a year.

Allen cited an example of the kinds of setbacks his group confronted that kept it from meeting that deadline.

Recently, he related, the commission completed an initial audit of its first candidate to carry the seal. The results were shared with the company’s executives, but negotiations have stalled because of a recent senior management change within that company. Allen said his commission is in discussions with three other producers about using the Magen Tzedek seal. He declined to name them, citing a need for confidentiality during the process.

Allen said Magen Tzedek’s best prospects as potential partners are companies that have already developed their own standards and that emphasize ethical values in their branding and corporate culture. “We look for a corporate statement of responsibility, and work hard to establish contact with them,” he said. “We ask, ‘How do you verify this?’” With his group’s seal, Morris tells them, “you can walk the walk and not just talk the talk.”

The first step to certification is filling out a pre-screen application and a self-study form in which prospective clients answer how they currently fit standards in 22 categories, ranging from animal welfare to employee working hours. Companies are also asked to provide copies of all certificates, employee handbooks, waste reduction policies and a host of other manuals and policies.

Michael Siegel, co-chair of the Magen Tzedek board of directors, said his group had created the “most complete and comprehensive standards anyone has done,” noting that the process took several years to finish.


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