Poor treatment of animals can, in today’s age of increased consumer awareness, quickly become a liability for a company.
And that goes double if the animal is one that many consider cute.
Earlier this week, Walmart (WMT) – Get Walmart Inc. Report became the latest retailer to forgo a popular line of Thai coconut milk after issues raised by People for the Ethical Treatments of Animals (PETA).
Chaokoh, as USA Today first reported, has become the animal rights group target after claims arose that its production process relies on exploitative monkey labor.
Why Are So Many People Upset About Chaokoh Coconut Milk?
“The coconut trade uses social monkeys as chained-up coconut-picking machines, depriving them of any opportunity to eat, play, or spend time with their families,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement provided to press outlets.
“With one PETA exposé after another confirming cruelty on coconut farms, retailers are dropping Chaokoh left and right. Kudos to Walmart for its kind decision.”
PETA first started bringing attention to this issue in 2019.
After visiting several of the Thai farms where the milk was produced, PETA posted videos of the monkeys being trained to grab coconuts based on workers’ orders.
As the videos were re-shared and attention to PETA’s allegations grew, a number of retailers started pulling Chaokoh products off their shelves.
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While the company was once a major supplier of both coconut milk and coconut water in North America, over 45,000 big and small retailers severed ties with it after the PETA investigation.
As of June 7, Walmart is one of the last major retailers to stop selling Chaokoh coconut milk.
According to PETA, Walmart received over 86,000 letters urging it to do so in recent months.
Bad Animal Practices Can Be Bad For Business
In 2020, a company contracted by Theppadungporn Coconut Co. investigated Chaokoh’s practices.
It claimed that, after visiting 64 of its 817 farms, it found no monkeys being used for coconut-picking.
PETA, in turn, claimed that this was “misleading and inadequate.”
“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, and Thailand’s ambassador to the U.S. are all actively attempting to mislead global retailers and consumers about the continued use of monkey labor,” PETA wrote on its site.
While the presence of the videos is a main reason that the outcry proved to be particularly strong for Chaokoh, this type of pressure on producers to maintain certain labor and animal treatment standards has been ongoing for a while.
According to a study done by consulting firm Kearney, one in every three American consumers now consider the impact to the environment from every product they choose to buy at the grocery store.
The same goes for most other issues — labor, animal treatment and overall sustainability.
“There is significant momentum in the U.S. and abroad for companies to provide sustainability disclosure that is reliable, consistent, and comparable,” a group of Harvard researchers wrote in a recent report on the rise of the sustainable consumer.