SOURCE: South China Morning Post and NPR

DATE: July 4, 2020

SNIP: Four British retailers have removed coconut products alleged to involve monkey labour in their production, after reports emerged the animals were used by some farms in Thailand to pick the fruit.

The Telegraph newspaper published a report citing the probe by PETA Asia, which highlighted the use of pigtailed macaques taken from the wild in Thailand and forcibly trained in farms to scurry up trees and harvest coconuts used to make coconut milk, meat, flour, oil, and other products.

According to PETA Asia, some farmers investigated were producing products that were eventually sold by Aroy-D and Chaokoh, two major Thai coconut milk producers.

Conservationist Carrie Symonds, the fiancée of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, welcomed the move by the retailers and urged other UK stores to do the same.

“Glad Waitrose, Co-op, Boots & Ocado have vowed not to sell products that use monkey labour, while Morrisons has already removed these from its stores,” Symonds said on Twitter.

If you’ve consumed coconut oil or coconut meat lately, there’s a reasonable chance it was imported from Thailand. And if it was, there’s an even better chance the farmer who grew that coconut had a monkey fetch it from a tall tree.

Thailand has been raising and training pigtailed macaques to pick coconuts for around 400 years. Coconut farmers in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India and other countries in the region sometimes rely on monkeys, too.

Why monkeys? Turns out a male monkey can collect an average of 1,600 coconuts per day and a female can get 600, while a human can only collect around 80 per day. It’s also safer for a scampering, height-savvy monkey to pluck and drop the fruit from the trees — up to 80 feet tall — than a human, according to the National Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

We weren’t aware that monkeys were key to the Asian coconut industry — until Animal Place, a farm sanctuary in Grass Valley, Calif., contacted us in early October claiming that monkeys are being “exploited” on coconut plantations there. “Animal-aware people are increasingly avoiding coconut products that come from monkey slavery,” the group, which advocates a vegan diet, said.

“It would be difficult to find a coconut product made in Thailand that wasn’t picked by a monkey,” Arjen Schroevers tells The Salt by email. Monkeys pick 99 percent of the Thai coconuts sold for their oil and flesh, he says.