Home animal rights Is Your Coconut Oil a Product of Animal Exploitation?

Is Your Coconut Oil a Product of Animal Exploitation?

September 21, 2015

Please be sure to read my follow up post with additional information and insight about this topic here


 

Surely you do your best to make the most ethical choices when shopping for products for your home.  Some things you might consider: Were these products fairly traded? Were they produced under fair and ethical labor conditions? Were these products tested on animals? Does this product contain palm oil , which is a leading cause of deforestation in areas like Borneo and a major contributor to the plight of the orangutans who live there?

These are great questions to ask and certainly worth the additional effort it may take to get answers.

But, unfortunately,  I’ve got another problem for you to consider: were the coconuts harvested for use in your coconut oil containing products picked by enslaved pig tailed macaques?

Human beings have a great capacity for love, compassion, kindness, and advancing our civilization and culture to great heights.

And yet, we are also excellent at exploiting and mistreating others in the name of profit and progress.

From unsafe and inhumane working conditions in many of the garment factories producing the clothes to feed our fast-fashion habits, to the gross mistreatment of farm animals on factory farms, I’ve learned some pretty unsettling truths over the years as I try to be more conscious of how the products I use are made.

The horrors we inflict on our fellow beings are appalling and I know that any sane person would reject this treatment as cruel and unjust if only they stopped to consider it.

Which brings me to the coconut picking monkeys.

I had no idea this was even a thing.

I’ve been to Southeast Asia and I’m well aware how both the animal tourism industry and the working animal industry is very much alive and central elements within their economies, especially in Thailand.

In fact, it was upon witnessing the underlying (and overt) horrors of the elephant tourism industry during my visit to Thailand  that prompted my interest in animal rights.

I suppose I was so focused on learning about the exploitation of elephants that I never heard of any of the many “monkey training” schools where monkeys are trained from a very young age to harvest coconuts. As enterprising monkey trainers realized the amount of money to be made in tourism they opened their doors to tourists and have expanded to include circus-like shows where their monkeys perform tricks for an audience.

{photo: Pay Coconuts, Get Monkeys, Bangkok Post}

It’s no surprise that these places are lightheartedly marketed to tourists as a unique and entertaining experience for the whole family.  It is yet another example of humans regarding other beings as mere objects of entertainment; their only value comes from the pleasure and joy gleaned by tourists willing to pay money to watch them pick coconuts or perform silly tricks that rouse oooh’s and aaah’s from the crowd.

And while tourists marvel at these monkeys as tiny curiosities, they snap photos using the monkeys as props, smiling broadly as a monkey shackled by the neck and chained to a pole sits idly by.

All I see when I look at these photos is willful ignorance in the face of pretty obvious cruelty.

“But it looks like the animals are well cared for and enjoy what they’re doing,” one might say.

Whether or not the monkey is well cared for is irrelevant, as the monkey should never be in the care of a human to begin with. And this is the main point, isn’t it?

The sad reality to all of this is that these animals were stolen from the wild. While some are born into captivity on breeding farms, many were purchased from poachers who trap them in the forest and even stoop so low as to kill nursing mothers to steal the babies. After all, a monkey trained from a young age will be easier to handle and will become more skilled in his ability to yield the most coconuts.

Pig-tailed macaques, whose conservation status is vulnerable, can live  to around 30 years in captivity!  (EDIT:  I had originally stated that pig-tailed macaques can live as long as 40 years. Their lifespan appears to be contested, as some resources state their captive lifespan to be closer to 40, while others around 30. I have also added their conservation status.)

Could you imagine living the duration of your life in shackles, laboring for long hours harvesting coconuts, or performing silly tricks, with little time to socialize with members of your group? To live a life with no free will?

No. You would not. And I’m sure you’ll agree that these monkeys feel the same way.

Training takes several months and physical punishment is typically used to force the monkeys into submission. Monkeys who are well trained will be resold to coconut farmers for a high-price, making this aspect of the industry quite profitable for trainers.

{An Indonesian monkey being sold to coconut farmers, Photo: The Daily Mail}

The economic benefit to the coconut farmers who use these monkeys is obvious. While some sources seem a bit dubious on the matter, I’ve read that these monkeys can harvest hundreds of coconuts per day, with estimates ranging widely from 300-1000.

Screenshot 2015-02-11 09.39.09

                                         {photo: All American Vegan}

I have also read that a typical day in the life of a working pig tailed macaque begins at 8 am and ends around 5 with only a small break for lunch. The day is quite long and exhausting to say the least.

Published earlier this month, the most comprehensive article I read, Pay Coconuts, Get Monkeys, gives us an idea  of what life is like for these monkeys, how valuable they are economically, and how legal loopholes enable trainers and “zoos” to essentially get away with animal abuse and neglect.

Early on in the piece a man called  Noi Petchpradab, who has been training macaques to harvest coconuts for thirty years, was interviewed and discusses daily life for these working monkeys:

When they are not working, the animals are chained to tree stumps, which Mr Noi said is due to their aggressiveness. They are given three daily meals, consisting of rice mixed with Lactasoy milk.

The article also goes on to say:

Due to their ability to work for long hours, the macaques are capable of collecting 600-1,000 coconuts per day, compared to only 100-200 for humans. On a few occasions, he admitted, the monkeys are so tired they faint. (bold and italics added for emphasis)

This practice will surely continue as long as there is both a market for coconut oil and consumers who are ignorant to the fact that this is even happening. Also, there will always be an economic incentive for people in these areas to use monkeys as performers as long as tourists are willing to spend money to visit them.

I really do thinks it is important to note that this information is not to suggest that these people are “bad” or that they set out to intentionally bring harm to these animals.  In fact, the use of animals as labor has been widespread as long as animals and humans have existed together.

It’s important to shed light on these issues for many reasons, but also to remember that these are people who, at the end of the day, are trying to make a living.  As someone who comes from a wealthy, industrialized nation, I do not have to contend with the fact that my options for employment and supporting my family might realistically be limited to and industry that, for now, relies on the use of wild animals and has done so for many years. So, one must also consider the privileges that one may take for granted living in a more developed country.  For example, in these areas of Thailand about half of a family’s yearly income may be earned by the pigtail macaque retrieving the coconuts. (http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/pigtail_macaque/behav)

While I don’t have the answers to this, it is my hope that the more knowledge we have about this will inspire change and eventually bring other alternatives to these people to make their income in a way that does not exploit animals.

Although the yield is far less, an obvious alternative is for coconut farmers to hire fairly-compensated human workers.

What can you do to try and make changes?

  • Firstly, don’t buy products that contain coconut oil from coconuts harvested by these monkeys. At the bottom of the article I’ve included a list of companies who I know use fairly traded coconut oil harvested by humans. The list is by no means exhaustive; just because a brand you use isn’t included does not mean they are using monkeys. Simply reach out to a representative to the company to find out.  I did just that for the coconut oil containing products I use in my home. Unfortunately, only one brand returned my inquiry (Alaffia), but I can now continue to buy their products knowing that I’m not contributing to the abuse of monkeys.
  • Don’t visit these types of tourists attractions. I connected with Ashley Fruno, Senior Campaign Manager from PETA Asia, and she says:

The most important thing that we can do to end this practice is to never patronize animal attractions and to educate others to do the same. Many coconut plantations offer tours, and some facilities double as circuses. The money spent at these facilities pays for this exploitive industry to continue.

  • Spread the word!  Ignorance is bliss, I suppose, but we can’t really affect positive change in the world if we don’t know there are problems that we may be unwittingly contributing to.
  • Write letters to the governments who enable this type of abuse.  In talking with Ashley Fruno, Senior Campaign Manager from PETA Asia, she says:

Animal protection laws in many countries in Asia are weak and often poorly enforced. Fighting industries like these is not usually possible from a legal standpoint because no laws are being broken.

So, one can only hope that making enough noise and expressing disdain for these practices could encourage some legal change within these countries.

 BRANDS WHO CONFIRMED  COCONUTS ARE PICKED BY FAIRLY COMPENSATED HUMAN WORKERS

3 Buddhas Coconut Water

Allafia

Biona
Aunt Patty’s
Ayam
Artisana Organics
Better Body Foods
Big Tree Farms
Bio Planète
Carrington Farms
Cha’s Organics
Coconut Bliss
Coconut Magic (Australia)
Coconut Secret
Dr. Bronner’s
Earth Circle Organics
Essential Trading
Harmless Harvest
La Tourangelle Artisan Oils
Maison Orphee
MELT Organics
Naked Coconuts
Native Pacific “Banaban” (Queensland)
Nutiva
Ojio (Ultimate Superfoods)
Sanso-Boeki LLC (Japan)
So Delicious
Silk
Spectrum Organics
Trader Joe’s
Tropical Traditions
Vita Coco

Zico

I know this is tough news to accept and it can feel overwhelming, especially when there is already so much to contend with.  Sometimes I feel truly helpless and wonder if I am even making a difference, but then I stop, take a step back, and realize that I am not perfect, but I can do my best to not turn a blind eye to this sort of thing.

Spread the word. And if you hear back from a brand who can confirm that their product is fairly traded and harvested by fairly-compensated human employees, please do let me know!

xoxo,

MKC

*UPDATE 1: I have been contacted by someone from the First Monkey  School in Surat-Thani, Thailand. Per their website, this school touts itself as the first training school established to train monkeys.  The school uses non-aversive, rewards based training with their monkeys instead of punishment. I have been in correspondence with them and although my invitation to have a Skype interview was declined due to language barriers, I did send over a list of questions for them to answer that will hopefully shed more light on the practice of training monkeys and using them as labor. I will update as I can.

*UPDATE 2: Check out my newest post on this topic here , which includes some information about the First Monkey School, in addition to my overall view on the subject and some interesting information about the coconut picking industry in India.

 

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18 comments

Rosy September 27, 2015 at 1:39 am

That’s great! I liked the post, and I’m advising that I’m NOT vegetarian, but I DON’T eat bovine, canine feline neither pork meat, because I don’t like how it tastes neither the animal suffering, and I also NEVER bought none piece of clothe made with animal product, such as fur or leather, only synthetics, and I also DON’T buy products of certain marks who are suspect of incentivate slave and children work, like Nike and Adidas, and I don’t know if it’s true, so, I’ll not buy the products of these marks 😉 and people sometimes have a false notion that animals don’t have souls neither suffer at the hour of die, but I believe that they can suffer a lot at the hour of death 🙁 specially if they’re on a slaughter or anything similar. If they’re euthanized on a HUMAN way they DON’T suffer, so, I feel sad by the animals who have to face a slaughter, and I feel sad by these animals who are killed “by fun” or by their fur, like the foxes in some countries. And do you know that our beloved dogs and cats are ate in some countries? Yes, yes, it’s sad but it REALLY occurs, specially in some Asian countries, as China, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, but I think that so much more countries practice this abominable act. Some of them practice it by hungry, who I think that’s OK, it’s a reasonable motive, but other of them practice it due to “cultural reasons”, similar to what we make with cows in America and Europe. It’s more due to culture than real necessity, I think 😉 so, I believe that if all people see an animal suffering at the slaughter, the world would be vegetarian, perhaps vegan, because nobody who’s considered normal like to see an animal suffering. I know because I saw a similar scene, but with a dog. The poor dog was hit by a motorcycle and the motorcyclist doesn’t made nothing by the animal, who ran, scared and in pain! It was very revolting for me, but people saw it as a “normal” scene! If you see it as a “normal” scene, OK. But it isn’t a normal scene for me, who grew up around dogs and cats, so, I have a special affection with dogs, inclusive I had a white KBD (Kintamani Bali Dog) called Bali, when I was adolescent 😀 Weh, continuing, I said you that if all people in the world saw an animal suffering in the slaughter, the world probably would be vegetarian, perhaps vegan, because nobody who’s normal like to see an animal suffering to end in a restaurant. I don’t would like to see it neither you. So, I DON’T eat bovine, canine, feline neither pork meat, and I also don’t buy products of marks who are suspect of incentive the slave and children work, because I wouldn’t like to incentive the suffering industry, because it’s against all that I believe.

Reply
Coconut oil and animal cruelty | tortoise & lady grey November 9, 2015 at 3:16 am

[…] benefits of coconut oil. That is not to mention the health benefits. But then I read this post about how coconut oil is often harvested by enslaved monekys and I was completely stunned. It really highlighted one thing for me- that every choice we make […]

Reply
Arjen Schroevers November 29, 2015 at 5:32 am

Many mistakes in this article.

I name just a few.

Monkeys in captivity live maximum 35 years, in the wild they do not get older then 17-18.
They never shoot the mother monkey. How do you want to do that? Baby monkeys are holding the mother. Baby monkeys are far to young to live in captivity. When the monkeys are caught from the wild, they use a trap. (cage)

I do not know monkey owners who punish the monkey during training. If you know a monkey you will know that punishing it works only against you.

There is a huge difference between keeping monkeys for shows for tourists (mostly even on places where are no coconuts growing, (like Chiang Mai and Bangkok) and the working monkeys. I agree fully that a monkey should not work in the tourist industry. Show me one monkey handler who collects coconuts with his monkeys, who treats the monkey bad, Maybe you can find one, but it will bevery difficult.

Kind regards, Arjen Schroevers
http://www.firstmonkeyschool.com

Reply
My Kind Closet November 29, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Hi Arjen — what is the difference between keeping monkeys for shows and working monkeys? I would love to ask you some questions about working monkeys- is there an e-mail where I can reach you?

Reply
Arjen Schroevers December 1, 2015 at 1:35 am

First I want to say I am happy surprised you placed my response. A honest discussion is very good. We realise very well that the monkeys belong in the nature, although in captivity they become much older. But for now, special in the south of Thailand, there is not a better way to collect the coconuts then with monkeys. Everyone is talking about the oil and coconut water. But the biggest usage from coconuts is in soaps, Toothpastes, Shampoos and all kind of lotions. Maybe it is possible to avoid using coconut water and oil as a main product. To avoid it in above mentioned products is nearly impossible.

You can find my email on my website, http://www.firstmonkeyschool.com

A big difference between monkeys for shows, and for working is that during shows, monkeys have to wear clothes, play guitar, dance, do push-ups, all unnatural.

When they work they have to climb trees, and collect coconuts, this they do also in the wild, so is more natural behavior for them.

I have visited many places where they use monkeys for shows for tourists. They are all very sad places, monkeys do not look happy, and are kept in small cages. I know also many monkey owners with working monkeys. They are treated very well and you can see clearly affection between the owner and the monkey. Problem is that most people (I guess 99% from foreigners who visit Thailand) only see the monkeys in shows for tourists. Misleading from these places is also that they say they train the monkeys for harvesting coconuts.

If you treat the animal with respect, I do not see any difference between a working monkey, riding a horse (for fun!!) or the different kinds of working dogs. There are laws in place to disallow people who mistreat their animal, to continue doing so.

Arjen.

Reply
My Kind Closet December 1, 2015 at 1:42 am

Hi Arjen – Glad to hear from you again. I think an honest and open discourse is very important as well, so I will always approve comments (unless they are obscene or rude) that may conflict with my views. Problems can never be addressed or solved and we will never make progress if people with dissenting views refuse to engage in civil conversation. I’ll be reaching out this week with some questions – perhaps we can even arrange a skype interview; but that may be hard with schedules and time differences. Either way, I’ll be sending you an e-mail soon. Thanks again.

Reply
Danielle December 1, 2015 at 12:16 pm

maybe you can visit the first monkey school in Suratthani, this is very worthwhile place and you will see that the monkeys are treated very well here .

Reply
My Kind Closet December 1, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Hi Danielle, Perhaps one day I will visit Thailand again. I am very interested in seeing a training facility, in addition to a plantation where the monkeys work after they have been trained. I have not been successful in getting contact information for any of these farms. But, as you may have read in my article, the notion that the animals may be treated “well” is almost irrelevant, as they were stolen from the wild and have had their free will taken from them in the first place so that they can work. These are wild animals. They are not here for us to use. The argument that it’s no different from a dog working is a false equivalence because dogs have been domesticated by man and we are responsible for caring for them.

Reply
More on Coconut Picking Monkeys | December 15, 2015 at 7:36 pm

[…] recently wrote a piece about the coconut-picking macaques of South East Asia, who are made to work on coconut plantations picking […]

Reply
Thérèse Bouchard April 9, 2016 at 11:30 pm

Here is a wider list of companies stating that they do not use monkeys:

3 Buddhas Coconut Water
Alaffia
Aunt Patty’s
Ayam
Artisana Organics
Better Body Foods
Big Tree Farms
Bio Planète
Carrington Farms
Cha’s Organics
Coconut Bliss
Coconut Magic (Australia)
Coconut Secret
Dr. Bronner’s
Earth Circle Organics
Essential Trading
Harmless Harvest
La Tourangelle Artisan Oils
Maison Orphee
MELT Organics
Naked Coconuts
Native Pacific “Banaban” (Queensland)
Nutiva
Ojio (Ultimate Superfoods)
Sanso-Boeki LLC (Japan)
So Delicious
Silk
Spectrum Organics
Trader Joe’s
Tropical Traditions
Vita Coco

Reply
My Kind Closet April 15, 2016 at 8:32 pm

wow- thanks so much! I’ll get to updating my list ASAP. 🙂

Reply
Did a Monkey Pick Your Coconuts? Part Two | My Blog April 21, 2016 at 9:47 pm

[…] recently wrote a piece about the coconut-picking macaques of South East Asia, who are made to work on coconut plantations picking […]

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Five Things: 01 – LAMB LOVES WOLF September 4, 2016 at 11:15 am

[…] Coconut oil and animal exploitation. […]

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Nancy Freer Kartoon January 14, 2017 at 10:59 pm

WOW!! Thank you, thank you for writing that marvelous article about working monkeys harvesting coconuts and your readers replies….and especially helpful that you listed all the companies that hire humans to pick coconuts to produce their products!

WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD…if people refuse to spend their consumer dollars on products and services that use animals in any way…those companies will be forced to change the way they operate or go put of business.

Look at the CHANGES made by http://www.tripadvisor.com – they no longer promote companies that use animals to make money and they are doing their best to NOT support businesses that exploit animals for human entertainment.
https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g293920-i5037-k3179591-Cruelty_free_elephant_experience-Phuket.html

Thank you again for writing this article.. I read it and Im posting it on my Facebook page, on Vegan forums, animal activist websites, in emails to friends and I just sent it to my dietitian, GP and nutritionist advisor. Keep up the good works!

Reply
My Kind Closet January 15, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Thanks , Nancy!!! I agree, consumers have the power to make change… And the more we’re aware of how our products are made, the more we can do to ensure they’re made fairly. Thanks again for reading.

Reply
Mandy Benoualid March 20, 2017 at 8:14 pm

I have a small issue with these companies listed.
Apparently 99% of coconuts harvested from Thailand use Monkey labor.
So unless these company do not source from Thailand, they probably get them from monkey labor.
This is sad and I wish there was a better way to know for sure.

Reply
My Kind Closet March 21, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Thanks for reading. All the companies included in this list confirmed that their coconuts are sourced ethically and without monkey labor.

Reply
UPDATE: BRYANNA’S NEW, EASY PALM OIL-FREE VEGAN BUTTER-Y SPREAD (SOY AND NON-SOY VERSIONS) | Samir Gianni March 22, 2017 at 12:20 am

[…] NON-SOY VARIATION: Instead of soymilk, use Silk or So Delicious Coconut Creamer (Original), which are both cruelty-free, or you can use a creamy sort of plant-based milk. (Rice milk is too thin). Use 3/4 tsp. guar gum and 1 Tbsp. sunflower lecithin in the non-soy version. NOTE: Silk and So Delicious use cruelty-free coconut products: See http://mykindcloset.com/2015/09/21/is-your-coconut-oil-a-product-of-animal-cruelty/ […]

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