Monday, June 16, 2008

Agriprocessors Now Doing What They Need to Do

A prominent public-relations personality in the national marketing of kosher foods recently published an article lambasting students, mostly in the New York area, who urged a boycott of the Postville company at the center of the recent Postville scandal. He called them a bunch of "leftists" reflecting a "lynch mob mentality."

Although that initiative a few weeks ago by those students at a rabbinical seminary in New York to boycott Agriprocessors was misplaced and premature at its time, those students who circulated the boycott call were motivated by their ethical sense of right and wrong. Theirs was not a call motivated by their being “leftists.” Rather, students act more quickly and intensely than do people who are older and who need to balance various personal and institutional considerations and interests. A centrist also could have joined their boycott call. I am a Centrist, a RIETS musmakh – and I came pretty close to going their route. Nor is the students’ institutional affiliation central to their boycott call, and I was deeply offended that the author of the article chose to level ad hominem attacks against the boycotters – instead of pointing a shining light to help the Postville slaughterhouse see how better to rebuild public trust.

The “road back” for Agriprocessors to win public support and to persuade consumers not to boycott them is by assuring the public that the company has taken and continues taking important steps to prevent recurrences of the things that have happened. Don't attack the boycotters. Rather, bolster public trust in corporate compliance. Indeed, since the scandal, Agriprocessors has been doing lots of right stuff, even if long overdue. For example, it was compelling that the company terminated its in-family CEO and has launched a significant search for a new CEO outside the family. It is particularly compelling that the company recently has retained a significant former federal prosecutor, Jim Martin, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, to deal with compliance issues. Martin was a federal prosecutor for 21 years, apparently was top of his class at University of Michigan Law School, and was a tough-as-nails USA investigating and prosecuting corporate white-collar crime in the Midwest. He went after Chrysler, prosecuted a CEO at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and basically is as solid a person as you could find to be chief compliance officer for a corporation. Now that is impressive. That builds public trust.

The Postville issues are complex, and I summarize many of them in my blog on the matter. But don’t sneer at the boycotters as “leftists” and a “lynch mob.” Such ad hominem name-calling in that context is shameful.

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