NOTE: This article contains disturbing imagery of animals. Please read at your own discretion.
A recent investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is alleging that Thai producers of coconut milk are engaging in “rampant abuse” of monkey labour, in which the chained primates are forced to spend long hours picking heavy coconuts.
Photos and videos collected by PETA Asia investigators show monkeys being chained, whipped, beaten, and dangled from their necks at coconut farms and monkey-training schools. PETA says it visited 57 operations in nine provinces across Thailand between December 2021 and July 2022, and found animals being abused at each one, according to the investigation’s webpage.
PETA is calling on consumers to stop buying coconut milk that was produced in Thailand and is urging subscribers of HelloFresh, and its subsidiaries like Green Chef, to boycott the meal delivery service until it moves its coconut milk supply chain out of Thailand.
In a statement, HelloFresh defended itself against PETA’s claims, saying it received assurances from suppliers that they were not engaged in monkey labour.
“HelloFresh strictly condemns any use of monkey labour in its supply chain, and we take a hard position of not procuring from suppliers or selling coconut products which have been found to use monkey labour. We have written confirmation from all of our suppliers — in the U.S. and globally — that they do not engage in these practices,” the statement reads.
But PETA says that brokers from two of HelloFresh’s coconut milk suppliers, Aroy-D and Suree, admitted to using monkey labour to investigators. Aroy-D can also be commonly found on Canadian grocery store shelves, including in Walmart and T&T.
PETA says that monkeys who become exploited in the coconut milk trade are typically kidnapped from their families as infants and sold to “monkey schools” that use violent methods to train monkeys to pick coconuts. The animal welfare group said that one owner of a monkey school told investigators that he buys baby monkeys from farmers who use nets to catch them, even though he knows it is illegal.
Footage and photos from within a monkey school taken by PETA showed a trainer whipping an infant monkey with a tether and jerking him around.
Other footage shows a boy trying to train another monkey by dangling him from the chain around his neck, likely cutting off the monkey’s oxygen supply, PETA said.
When monkeys complete training, they are sold to coconut pickers.
Photographs from a Suree supplier show monkeys chained up on trash-strewn patches of dirt with little protection from the elements. A worker for Suree allegedly said that the monkeys are forced to pick coconuts for more than a decade before they are “retired,” and chained up for the rest of their lives, PETA said.
A different employee told PETA investigators that the monkeys are often bitten by insects and can incur broken bones from falling out of trees or being yanked down.
“Monkeys are chained around the neck and forced to toil day in and day out, all for HelloFresh and other companies that lack a conscience,” said PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman in a press release. “PETA is calling on everyone, including HelloFresh, to stop buying canned coconut milk from Thailand until monkeys are no longer used and abused for profit.”
PETA suggests buying coconut milk from providers who do not source their ingredients from Thailand, including Trader Joe’s and Vita Coco.
After the results of a similar PETA investigation in 2019, the Thai government assured the public that monkeys were no longer being used to pick coconuts. Thailand is a top exporter of coconuts, according to Reuters, having exported US$396 million worth of coconut milk in 2019.