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Published on April 01, 2024
Whole Foods Fends Off PETA Allegations on Monkey Labor in Coconut Milk Supply ChainSource: Karyn Sig, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The debate over animal ethics has reached the grocery aisles with recent protests targeting Whole Foods Market over the use of monkey labor in coconut milk production, a claim the retailer staunchly denies. PETA activists, brandishing "wanted" posters of Whole Foods CEO Jason Buechel, allege that Thai coconut milk sold by the grocery chain is harvested using endangered pig-tailed macaques. Whole Foods has rebutted these claims, saying, "We have reinvestigated this issue out of an abundance of caution and have again confirmed that coconuts from Thailand used in these products are harvested without the use of animal labor," as spokesman Nathan Cimbala communicated, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

While PETA’s campaign continues to stir controversy, the depth of monkey exploitation within Thailand's coconut industry remains under scrutiny; Whole Foods insists on the ethical sourcing of its 365 in-house brand coconut milk, but PETA accuses major supermarkets, including Whole Foods, of sourcing from suppliers who exploit these creatures, the animals are taken from their native habitats, they're trained and forced into labor, PETA Asia's investigations suggest a darker reality, with monkeys allegedly subjected to abuse including being chained, intimidated, and deprived of a humane living environment when not grinding away in the trees. Tragically, most of these animals are said to be snatched from the wild, forced into uncomfortable metal collars, and sometimes even have their canines removed to prevent attacks on handlers.

Adding to the ethical quagmire, Plant Based News reports that audits relying on coconut pickers' testimony are deemed unreliable by PETA, prompting them to urge a blanket boycott on all Thai coconut products. This has led to a ripple effect with retailers such as Walmart, Costco, and Food Lion in the US, in addition to UK chains like Waitrose and Ocado, cutting ties with implicated suppliers. Alternatives do exist, claims PETA, advocating for products sourced from countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, purportedly untainted by monkey labor.

As consumers grow increasingly conscious of their purchases' ethical dimensions, companies are under fire to provide transparency, the challenges of tracing coconut sourcing complicate the task, but this hasn't stopped brands like Pacific Foods and Koko Dairy Free from proclaiming their monkey labor-free policies—favoring shorter, hybrid trees that make human harvesting less perilous—all amid growing skepticism towards products hailing from Thai territory, PETA insists on a complete divestment from Thai coconut milk after multiple investigations unfurled a web of deception and cruelty involving thousands of macaques even as governments and companies strive to portray a cleansed supply chain.