Sunday, June 15, 2008

What is wrong with AgriProcessors?

I have been assaulted in the last week with ethical concerns regarding consuming the meat of AgriProcessors, otherwise known to the Nissim's Deli counter at Topps as Rubashkin's or Aaron's meat. So far as I can gather from the internet (and please inform me if I am wrong) AgriProcessors has not been charged with any violations by the US DOJ.
No charges have been brought against managers or owners at Agriprocessors, but there were indications that prosecutors were also preparing a case against the company. In pleading guilty, immigrants had to agree to cooperate with any investigation. -NYT
I personally do not have any ethical qualms with hiring illegal aliens and aside from the dina demanchusa aspect, I am not terribly outraged. The artilce states that the scope of this raid is unprecedented in the criminalization of illegal immigration, which leads me to interpret that Agriprocessors was made an example of rather than it being the case that they were particularly malicious. Furthermore Argi is searching for a new CEO, so it looks like they are taking steps to sort our the furor internally. The NYT article did, however, go on to say that there are allegations of employees working overtime without consistent pay, which is both assur and bad. There is no follow up mention of abuse, sexual or otherwise. Please feel free to outrage me.

Addendum: I quickly read through the affidavit for the search warrant conducted at Argiprocessors. I found the following things that disturbed me:
#16- Allegations of a drug laboratory on premises (described as incidental and not ongoing).
#49- Allegations of verbal abuse by a Rabbi accompanied by the throwing of meat.
#98- Allegations of extortion by forcing workers to purchase cars from a specific dealer.
I did not consult the Des Moines Register as I neither had access to the archives from a month ago nor did I figure that the below mentioned accusations were terribly credible if they had not made their way to subsequent reports. The NYT, Forward and JPost have all written multiple articles on the story and have not reported accusations of assault or sexual abuse.

The vast majority of the affidavit was devoted to creating cause to search the plant on the grounds of immigration violations. With regards to these violations, yes, they are concerning. As I understand it, however, these are systemic concerns that derive from a backwards U.S. immigration policy. The food industries are a notorious destination for undocumented labor and a great many employers are complicit in overlooking patently forged documents. There are a slew of charges which could result from the immigration violations, but that is the face of America's 13 million person undocumented labor force. The human trafficking, for instance, that occurs with undocumented workers is most often not morally equivalent to that which occurs in Southeast Asia or North Africa. I am undecided whether I think it is ethically wrong, as in the end you are providing a living wage (yes, $5/hr is living in Mexico or Guatemala) to millions of people who would otherwise be worse off.

WRT the obligations of us kosher eating people, and particularly kosher supervising people: I think the Jewish community needs to do a better job of making sure that 'Jewish Industries' are clean. That is an a priori responsibility. I have not given considerable thought to when an ethical violation that does not translate into a criminal violation would force me to change my consuming habits. I have absolutely no idea if the OU has any responsibility to deny supervision to a Unilever plant because they suspect wrong doing (how much suspicion? How wide spread? If rampant, why not report it to the police?). There should be a policy whereby mashgichim can report concerns they have, but I don't know what would make a factory unfit for hasgacha (again, short of criminal labor abuse).

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Six to eight subpeona's were served at the Executive Offices of Agri about 2 weeks ago. No one knows what charges the Rubashkins and/or their supervisors, mangers and officers will face, but based upon the affidavit submitted by ICE in order to get the search warrant for the raid, the following are not out of line: Contributing the deliquency of minors, violations of child labor laws, violation of equal pay, failure to pay overtime, conspiracy to defraud the US Government (people paid off the books -tax issues) human trafficking, assult, rape, statutory rape, bribery, extortion, subborning public officials, falsifying state records, operation of an illegal drug enterprise on premise ... there are probably more charges but a lot will depend on which Federal and/or State Agency feels it has the strongest case to pursue. I suggest you read the affidavit and the newspaper coverage by the Des Moines Register for more details.

miriam said...

"The human trafficking, for instance, that occurs with undocumented workers is most often not morally equivalent to that which occurs in Southeast Asia or North Africa. I am undecided whether I think it is ethically wrong, as in the end you are providing a living wage (yes, $5/hr is living in Mexico or Guatemala) to millions of people who would otherwise be worse off. "

"human traficking" is not the same as (though it may include as a component) "smuggling people across the border." for example, it usually doesn't involve a wage, living or otherwise.

now, it's true, sometimes trafficked people are only enslaved for a few months and then get to go and make their $5 somewhere else, but that's a harder moral calculus than you let on...

miriam said...

"it's true, sometimes trafficked people are only enslaved for a few months and then get to go and make their $5 somewhere else, but that's a harder moral calculus than you let on..."

ps, i don't mean to belittle "only a few months" of lost liberty. i just thought i would get that out there.

the ultimate "do they end up better off" question is still out there, but it's more like asking whether someone is better off starving in rural guatemala or coming to the US, making $10 an hour, and losing two fingers. the real answer is he's better off coming to the US without losing the fingers.

Zev said...

b'kitzur, I posted this to highlight that there is a lack of information regarding what Agri is actually guilty of. There are many allegations, but there is still a lot which is unclear.

It is also not to belittle Uri L'Tzedek either. At least I know that Shmuly is a great guy and it is a good idea to try and get the kosher meat industry to clean up its image from the inside.