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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The standards were finally published on Magen Tzedek’s website last February, 13 months after the organization formalized its status as a not-for-profit corporation. The 19-page manual details the specific requirements a company must fulfill, a dizzying amount of categories and subcategories spanning labor practices, animal welfare, consumer issues, corporate integrity, environmental impact, traceability of food supplies and record keeping. Allen said that businesses have approached Magen Tzedek with the proper intentions for wanting the seal, but their actual commitment to fulfilling all the standards was not as dedicated.

Menachem Lubinsky, president and CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, a kosher-focused consulting firm, said the delays were inevitable. Furthermore, he said, the seal is not as important to the public as supporters of Magen Tzedek would like to think, particularly if it entails extra costs.

“The bottom line is, who is this being addressed to?” said Lubinsky, a former consultant for Agriprocessors. “A kosher consumer, whose dominant thought is buying at the right price with good quality. I’ve talked to major supermarket chains, and they get very few inquiries [about ethical standards].”

The priority that kosher consumers place on a good price over any other factor, Lubinsky said, was demonstrated by the fact that during the Agriprocessors scandal, the company’s sales actually increased. Lubinsky later wrote in an email that he interviewed about a dozen retailers at the time, both chains and independent stores, and “that was the overwhelming sentiment.”

But Allen is unfazed. “Once we show it can be on a package, people will come to believe it’s not only possible, but necessary,” he said.

Meanwhile, Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice organization, has created a separate seal, Tav HaYosher, for restaurants and caterers that is already in use, though it launched around the same time as its Conservative counterpart. Its faster progress may be due in part to greater circumspection in what it seeks to certify: basically, that those carrying its seal obey federal and state law in their treatment of workers. The seal certifies that the business carrying it pays its workers minimum wage and overtime, that the workers are free to organize and that the work environment meets state and federal safety standards.

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