The goal of Hechsher Tzedek is to have a 'righteous seal' placed on those kosher food products which have met certain standards in six areas:
wages and benefits
health and safety
When the Hechsher Tzedek initiative was proposed, the initial response from its opponents was the assertion that the government is responsible for oversight in these areas. If there are any problems, the various government agencies will properly handle them. We need not have any further concern. All is well, all will continue to be well.
This refrain has been repeated over and over and over, even as reports of problems continue. Today it was an article in the Forward about unsanitary conditions and noncompliance with USDA regulations designed to protect the health and safety of consumers . A few weeks ago the reports were of mistreatment of animals during shechita. Last year it was reports of mistreatment of workers. And before all of these came reports of environmental issues. What is next?
As this latest news report shows, the government can only do so much. We need to to be vigilant. These violations, 250 non-compliance records from the USDA, five of them for inadequate safeguards against Mad Cow disease and multiple others for fecal matter in the food production area, are a serious issue which, while occuring over a year ago in many cases, illustrate the danger of solely relying on government inspectors to safeguard Jewish values.
In the coming weeks, Conservative Judaism will hopefully be announcing specific standards for the Hechsher Tzedek certification. The kosher industry should welcome the opportunity to reassure customers that we don't have to wonder about the food we are purchasing but can instead be assured of safe and healthy products which meet the laws of kashrut and are produced by workers who have been treated with dignity according to Jewish law as it relates to employers and employees. At this point in time we have no assurances and we are indeed wondering.