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Rabbi wants US Jews to be more involved in boardroom battles for social justice

35 9 0

JTA — When Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster began visiting the tomato fields of Florida as an activist more than a decade ago, the stories of farmworkers being treated as slaves were still fresh. The Justice Department had discovered systemic abuse in the industry including cases of pistol whippings, confinement, starvation wages and rampant sexual assault.

But Kahn-Troster, who was working for T’ruah, a human rights group made up of rabbis and cantors, arrived at a hopeful moment. A farmworker organization called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers was putting pressure on the industry to change — and the effort seemed to be succeeding.

Grocers like Whole Foods and fast-food chains such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s were signing on to the Fair Food Program, a binding agreement to source their tomatoes from growers who pay better wages and are subject to a code of conduct. Kahn-Troster and dozens like her in the farmworker movement became known as “tomato rabbis,” who articulated their support through a Jewish lens and enlisted Jewish communities across the country in solidarity campaigns.

“I got to see the change in the fields in real time and it made a difference for the lives of tens of thousands of farmworkers,” Kahn-Troster said.

The fight isn’t over. The farmworkers are now pressing one of the last major fast-food chains that refuses to join the program: Wendy’s.

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Kahn-Troster is part of the campaign targeting Wendy’s, but no longer as a representative of T’ruah. A few months ago she became the executive vice president of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, or ICCR.

In the new role, she is helping lead a coalition of 300 institutions, many of them religious, that control $4 trillion in financial assets. As major shareholders on Wall Street, they push corporate America to act more ethically and responsibly. In the business world, the shorthand for doing the right thing is ESG, or environmental, social and corporate governance.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency caught up with Kahn-Troster as she began her new job and just after as the ICCR put out a letter signed by 100 investors urging Wendy’s to join its peers and implement protections against abuses in its supply chain.

This kind of work —........

© The Times of Israel

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