Humans have always had a dependency on animals. We have used them for food, for their milk, for their hides, for their hair, fur or wool, and even for their companionship. We have also used them as beasts of burden.
Some animals are used for transportation, such as horses, elephants, camels or dogs that pull a sled. Some are used as draft animals, like mules or donkeys, that carry loads or pull carts. Oxen or cows pull plows or are hooked to turn mills.
In Thailand, however, monkeys are trained to climb trees and pick coconuts. While many people believe using any animal as a beast of burden is unethical, most of these animals are well fed and cared for, and some are even loved by their owners – because, in fact, these animals are rightly owned.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which conducted two investigations in Thailand about the use of monkey labor, the monkeys are allegedly abducted illegally from their families and homes when they’re just babies. They’re then fitted with rigid metal collars and kept chained or tethered for extended periods of time.
“The terrified young monkeys are forced to perform frustrating and difficult tasks, such as twisting heavy coconuts until they fall off the trees from a great height,” PETA alleges on its website.
When they’re not working, the monkeys are often kept in cages so small they can hardly stand or turn around. Coconut-picking competitions are held, pitting unwitting monkeys against one another. And if they try to escape or fight back, PETA claims the monkeys’ canine teeth may be pulled.
Last year, PETA investigators allegedly found young monkeys were chained and trained to pick coconuts at multiple farms in Thailand. Unfortunately, a subsequent study conducted a year later showed that conditions remained largely unchanged. Some of the farms that utilized monkey labor produced coconuts used by Chaokoh, a popular producer of coconut milk and water.
As a result of the PETA investigation, Target became the latest retailer to drop Chaokoh’s coconut products, joining Costco, Walgreens, Food Lion, Giant Food and Stop & Shop. “We believe in the humane treatment of animals and expect those who do business with us to do the same,” Target said. “We take seriously the claims made against Chaokoh, and given they were unable to sufficiently address the concerns raised, we made the decision to remove their product from our assortment in November 2020.”
Last year, Chaokoh posted a statement to its Twitter account denying the use of monkey labor at its farms. “In light of the disturbing reports in the news, we’d like to make it clear that both we and our associated parties do not support the use of monkey labour in the harvesting of coconuts,” the company’s tweet said.
Chaokoh said that all of its suppliers have signed a pledge to not use monkey labor and ensure that they comply with audits by the Thailand Ministry of Agriculture.
Despite the investigations and negative publicity surrounding the use of monkey labor, Thai farmers are still using them. Apparently, the coconut industry is a tough nut to crack.