PETA’s orientalism threatens local jobs in Thailand with ill-informed monkey campaign

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An ill-informed campaign by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to ban a coconut milk company is threatening local livelihoods in Thailand and is notable for being patently false and terrifically orientalist.

According to findings made by the group in 2019:

“A PETA Asia investigation reveals that terrified young monkeys in Thailand are kept chained, abusively trained, and forced to climb trees to pick coconuts that are used to make coconut milk, meat, flour, oil, and other products.”

The report goes on to single out Thai coconut-milk producer ChaoKoh – which exports to both the EU and the United States.

As a result of the campaign by PETA, the Biden administration is now considering a ban on ChaoKoh products.

This is seriously ill-informed.

No Monkey Business

Audits made by both the company, an independent investigator, and animal rights groups in Thailand shows that no part of the ChaoKoh supply chain was harvested using “monkey slave labour.”

A ban by the US on the other hand would force local farmers and farms to possibly go bankrupt and force hundreds of workers into poverty and destitution.

Furthermore, the PETA investigation conducted in Thailand had serious flaws in its methodology and was carried out by a lone investigation team which was unfamiliar with the country.

“We’ve asked PETA several time where they conducted the investigation so that we can end the practice at the source, but they have refused to talk to us or to cooperate,” said Teetiphun Theppadungporn, a spokesperson for ChaoKoh.

“This make it hard for us to check whether the claim is true,” he said.

Teetiphun said the company and all of the farms that supply coconuts have signed a memorandum of understanding to guarantee that none of the coconuts were picked by monkeys. 

The company is also independently audited by Bureau Veritas Certification which carries out random inspections at local farms. In 2020, random inspections at 64 farms found that there were no monkeys picking coconuts.

Flawed Investigation

“The problem with the PETA investigation is that they flew two white people into the country, hired a local fixer and went around asking about monkeys picking coconuts,” said a local fixer/reporter who was approached for the same job.

“That means there is serious problems in their methodology, little research, and a whole lot of outrage,” she said on condition of anonymity.

According to the local fixer, the investigators willfully went to tourist destinations where monkey picking was still carried out for the benefit of tourists.

“Does the practice still exist? Yes it does but there’s less than 100 monkeys nationwide that are still used in a traditional way and its fading fast. The report was bullshit. They had to go as far south as Narathiwat to see the practice still in effect.”

Livelihood affected

According to PETA:

“Even though many retailers around the world have stopped purchasing Thai coconut products, the Thai coconut industry, including Chaokoh and the Thai Food Processors Association…”

To longtime Thai observers, the actions by PETA and the retailers are yet another chapter in orientalism.

“So they carry out a flawed investigation, are really loud about how these third-world people must be abusing animals to make a profit, grow even louder and cause retailers to ban their products,” said Thai political commentator Arun Saronchai.

“Then they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done while farms go bankrupt and hundreds of farmers go hungry. Good job PETA.”

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