Costco Among Retailers To Pull Chaokoh Coconut Milk Over Alleged Use Of Forced Monkey Labor

December 4, 2020 By Justin Lessner

Large grocery stores and retailers across the United States have joined a campaign to pull a coconut milk product made in Thailand from shelves in response to allegations from an animal welfare group that the manufacturer forced monkeys to work as pickers.

So, if you’re planning on buying Chaokoh brand coconut milk on your next trip to the grocery store, it’s best you look for other brands. Major grocery store chains including the wholesale giant Costco have reportedly stopped stocking the Thailand-manufactured product due to allegations of forced monkey labor.

Although shocking, a recent investigation seems to support the allegations and that’s why some of the country’s largest retailers are expressing concern over Chaokoh’s labor practices after they were made aware of some upsetting accusations.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)  alleges that monkeys are (often illegally) taken from their families in the wild and kept “chained” and “isolated” on “barren dirty farms” in Thailand where they have little opportunity to interact with their own kind. An investigator recorded upsetting footage that detailed the cruelty.

A PETA investigation revealed seriously startling images that have led many stores to stop stocking Chaokoh’s coconut milk.

The footage shows monkeys chained and caged in cramped quarters. One yanks on its cage, ostensibly trying to escape. The monkeys are let out to climb trees and pick coconuts–sometimes up to 400 per day– and afterwards, they are once again confined to cages. 

Many displayed repetitive behavior indicative of extreme mental anguish, including one monkey who chewed on one of his own limbs,” PETA said in a statement. “One coconut farmer confirmed that when monkeys are terrified and try to defend themselves, handlers may have their teeth pulled out.”

The coconuts they pick are used for the production of coconut milk, oils, yogurt, and other coconut-based products. While there, one of the workers told the PETA investigator that they supply their coconuts to Chaokoh.

According to PETA, Thailand is the primary country that employs monkey-labor practices. Other coconut-heavy regions like Brazil, Colombia, and Hawaii use humane methods.

While Costco will not publicly comment on the matter, USA Today obtained a letter a Costco executive wrote to PETA about the allegations. 

“We have ceased purchasing from our supplier/owner of the brand Chaokoh,” wrote Ken Kimble, Costco’s vice president and general merchandise manager, in a letter dated September 29th.

Kimble added: “We have made it clear to the supplier that we do not support the use of monkeys for harvesting and that all harvesting must be done by human labor. In turn, our supplier has contractually required the same of all its suppliers. In addition, our supplier is in the process of visiting every one of its supplier farms to communicate the harvest policies.”

Although PETA has obtained footage of the monkey labor practices, the manufacturer of Chaokoh says they have conducted an internal audit of 64 farms out of 817 farms they source from. According to them, they “did not find the use of monkey for coconut harvesting.” They even presented USA Today with a 14-page document entitled the “Monkey-Free Coconut Due Diligence Assessment”.

Costco isn’t alone in cutting ties with the popular brand.

Credit: Rob Latour

Costco is not the only retail chain that stopped supplying Chaokoh. Walgreens, Duane Reade, ShopRite and Smart & Final are no longer selling the coconut milk brand due to the alleged animal abuse practices. Meanwhile, Target, Walmart, and Kroger still have the brand listed on their websites.

However, Target and Kroger both recently told USA TODAY that they were looking into the matter.

Kroger is the nation’s largest grocery chain and told USA TODAY that “Kroger has a longstanding commitment to responsible business practices, including the humane treatment of animals. We have re-engaged our suppliers, as well as other stakeholders, on this issue to re-confirm they are also protecting animal welfare.”

While Target assured USA TODAY that the company was looking into the matter, “We believe in the humane treatment of animals and expect those who do business with us to do the same. We’re looking into Chaokoh’s practices and will determine next steps accordingly.”

Perhaps in acknowledgment of the controversy, the company seems to be taking steps to address the cruelty.

Credit: Supanee Prajunthong

In a statement after chains in the U.K. first started pulling the Chaokoh brand, Theppadungporn Coconut said it had signed a memorandum of agreement with local suppliers not to use monkey labor and that farmers were using long poles or pruning sticks. It also invited diplomats and journalists to its factories.

“The company does not buy or support the use of all types of animal labor in harvesting product. Therefore, all coconuts from our suppliers must be harvested humanely with an animal-free method. All of our suppliers have agreed on the harvesting condition,” manager director Aphisak Theppadungporn said.

The investigations serve as a reminder of how important it is to be an informed consumer so that we can make the best decision for ourselves, our community, and our planet.