Shippers deny coconut milk rumour
Official rebuts claim of monkey business
The Commerce Ministry and food exporters brushed aside reports that Walmart, the giant US retailer, is dropping a Thai coconut milk brand on allegations of forced monkey labour, insisting such practices are a relic of the past.
Phusit Ratanakul Sereroengrit, director-general of the International Trade Promotion Department, said on Wednesday he already asked for information from Thai Trade Centers in the US, which have frequent contacts with large importers and distributors there.
Mr Phusit said the centres found Walmart still imports and sells products from Thailand and maintains a trade relationship as usual.
"It is normal practice for retail stores to place or remove some products from their shelves during certain periods to comply with consumer demand, which will vary upon the season," he said.
"People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] is likely to claim a victory for the period when the retailer removed Thai coconut milk from its shelves to create a trade issue."
Mr Phusit referred to recent reports that Walmart dropped Thai coconut milk from its shelves after PETA allegations about forced monkey labour.
He said the department in partnership with processed food producers have continued to issue letters to defend against the allegations, while the Thai Food Processors Association released a statement and information about Thailand's coconut plantation and harvesting, reaffirming monkey labour is not used for export-orientated industries.
Visit Limlurcha, honorary president of the Thai Food Processors Association, insisted there is no forced monkey labour to pick coconuts for commercial purposes, noting humans replaced monkeys to harvest coconuts long ago.
"Pictures of monkeys collecting coconuts for tourism is a memory of the past. Thailand disproved this allegation two years ago by demonstrating the method it uses to bring coconuts to factories," he said. "Using monkey labour is strictly prohibited for contract farming between factories and coconut farmers. The coconut milk industry will not buy coconuts from farmers who use monkey labour. There is also a traceback system where people can check the process from its origin."
According to the Commerce Ministry, coconut milk exports fetched Thailand 4.4 billion baht in 2021, up 10% from a year before, with key export markets including the US, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.