The Forward is reporting that a new certification agency is set to begin certifying kosher food with an additional symbol called a Magen Tzedek denoting that the certified food meets their ethical standard. The guidelines for earning a Magen Tzedek require food companies to meet the Magen Tzedek standard in 5 major categories: labor, animal welfare, consumer issues, corporate integrity and environmental impact. The standards are extensive. They fill a 150 slide PowerPoint presentation.
I’ve been thinking about this innovation and have mixed feelings about it.
My first thought is that certifying businesses as ethical is a nice thing to do. There are people who would only support a business if they were confident that the business was acting legally and ethically in all of its facets. Having that information verified by a third party seems like a great idea.
My second thought is that the standards are completely arbitrary. There are 5 categories and they are all issues and I think they are all important. But why are these the 5 issues the certification cares about? Moreover, not only are the 5 issues arbitrary, but the standard by which they are judged must be completely arbitrary as well. Take “environmental impact”. How much environmental impact is acceptable? Based on what is that standard established? Take “corporate integrity”. Does that include secretaries who nick paper clips and pens? What if the CEO makes a disproportionate amount of money? Where are the standards coming from?
In contrast, kosher certification is based on rabbinic sources. The sources are all agreed upon. There are minor discrepancies in application, but the standards are, for lack of a better word, standardized.
I am wary of any standard that is not standardized. I could be wrong. But I don’t see how things that are by definition arbitrary can be useful tools in a certification program.
Personally, I think a “whistle-blowing” organization would be more useful. Find out the facts. Report the facts. Then allow the consumer to decide whether the information is something that would affect their decision. This avoids the arbitrariness of the standards but still achieves the ultimate goal.
My third thought is that the reaction of the orthodox Jewish media is heinous. For example the headline on Matzav.com read: Left-Wing Non-Torah Liberal Jewish Factions to Test New Magen Tzedek Kashrus “Ethics Seal” in Kosher Marketplace. As I sarcastically posted on Twitter, this headline is slightly biased.
Why should it matter to an orthodox Jew if a good idea comes from Left-Wingers? Or even if it’s Non-Torah? Plenty of really great ideas are Non-Torah. And people who demand ethical business practices are to be considered “Liberal Jewish Factions”? Why? Further, the standards may be arbitrary, but they are also based mostly on Torah principles!
But what bothered me most of all is that lately, orthodox Jews are drawn to all sorts of stringencies that make them feel better about their observance of Torah. So why would it be offensive to them to add this stringency? Isn’t it reasonable to be strict about treatment of employees? Proper treatment of animals is required by the Torah! If corporate integrity means “honesty in business” well that is also a Torah requirement! Not wasting the earth’s resources? That’s also in the Torah. (See Earth Day.)
So why the uproar?
I am very interested to see how this certification progresses and if it begins to certify products in the orthodox Jewish marketplace. I hope that I will be able to post a follow up after this certification hits the market place and begins to make an impact (or fades away).
Link: The Forward