PETA targets Publix, says monkey labor persists at coconut farms in Thailand

Thai brand Chaokoh says farmers don’t use monkeys, but PETA says its new investigations shows otherwise as it pushes retailers to respond.
PETA is pressuring Publix to stop carrying a brand of Thai coconut milk it says continues to the use monkey labor to pick coconuts.
PETA is pressuring Publix to stop carrying a brand of Thai coconut milk it says continues to the use monkey labor to pick coconuts. [ PETA Asia ]
Published Jan. 6, 2021|Updated Jan. 6, 2021

Animal rights advocates who accused a Thai coconut milk company of relying on monkey labor to pick coconuts a year ago say the practice has not stopped.

The accusations of what activists call continued animal cruelty come after retailers, such as Publix, made statements they’d continue carrying the brand, Chaokoh, and assured shoppers that monkey labor ceased at the Thailand farms.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, has been targeting Publix for months, demanding the Lakeland grocer stop carrying Chaokoh products. The group is now upping the pressure after a second PETA Asia investigation alleged that Chaokoh’s parent company, Theppadungporn Coconut Co, is covering up the use monkeys and lying to importers and retailers.

“This new investigation pertains to Publix especially because Publix was trying to claim they had gotten assurance from the Thailand ambassador to the U.S. that monkey labor was no longer being used,” said Kent Stein, PETA’s corporate responsibility officer. “Chaokoh and the government are complicit in monkey labor continuing to be used in the production of coconut milk.

PETA protestors dressed as monkeys with a truckload of coconuts showed up to Publix’s Lakeland headquarters on Dec. 10 to demand the chain stop selling the products. At that time, Publix released a statement saying it reviewed affidavits of farmers stating no monkeys were being used at the farms. The statement also said Publix received “written assurance sent from Thailand’s ambassador to the U.S. stating that the Thai Food Processors Association has confirmed that monkeys are not used in the commercial harvesting of coconuts.”

“We work with our suppliers, industry leaders, governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations because we recognize our responsibility and take concerns about animal welfare seriously,” Publix said at that time.

Publix and Theppadungporn Coconut Co did not respond to requests for comment about PETA’s latest claims.

PETA’s first investigation caused waves in July, when it released videos of chained and caged monkeys working to knock coconuts off trees on Thailand farms. Retailers such as CostCo and Wegmans announced they’d no longer carry Chaokoh coconut milk in response.

Around that time, Theppadungporn made statements that it does not “buy or support the use of all types of animal labor.” The company posted a summary of the audit to its website that says 64 of its 817 coconut farms were randomly inspected and no evidence of monkey labor was found.

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PETA says its investigators returned to the farms between September and December 2020. The group says it found a farmer who said monkeys are hidden from inspectors; that auditors didn’t tell one farmer to stop using monkeys; at least half of 14 farms PETA visited before are still using monkeys; and that monkey schools and coconut picking competitions were continuing.

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PETA isn’t only targeting Publix. The group says it is also pushing Kroger and Walmart to stop carrying Chaokoh products. PETA says about 26,000 individual stores from a handful of chains have stopped selling the products since their campaign began.