Denial alone won’t help. To disprove the allegations of monkey abuse in Thailand’s coconut business, the Commerce Ministry has no other option but to face up to the matter.
The ministry must clarify where there are misunderstandings and make redress where shortcomings may still be found.
Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit on Monday issued a partial denial to abuse accusations made by the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) who said young monkeys in Thailand are mistreated and forced to pick coconuts used to make milk, flour, oil and other products.
The claims made by Peta have led to a boycott of Thailand’s coconut products by Western retailers.
In the United Kingdom, Waitrose, Ocado, Co-op and Boots have vowed to stop selling some coconut products from Thailand, the BBC reported.
Mr Jurin insisted that using monkeys to pick coconuts on an industrial scale no longer happens in Thailand.
However, the commerce minister did admit that smaller-scale farmers still train the animals to harvest coconuts, both for commercial purposes and as a form of tourist attraction.
While the commerce minister plans to invite foreign diplomats to observe the harvesting of coconuts and show there is no abuse of monkeys in the process, farmers have argued the use of monkeys to collect coconuts has been going on for more than 100 years.
They also insist that monkeys are more efficient than humans when it comes to climbing tall coconut trees.
But, mere denial with a seemingly self-serving attempt to justify traditional practices that are no longer acceptable to international standards appear inadequate in this case.
In its investigation that caused the uproar and later boycott of Thai coconut products, Peta cited eight farms where monkeys are forced to pick coconuts.
The group also visited several monkey training facilities and a coconut picking competition.
According to Peta’s report, many monkeys are illegally taken from the wild and from their families when they are babies. They are fitted with rigid metal collars and kept chained or tethered for extended periods.
Peta also said the monkeys are forced to collect up to 1,000 coconuts per day as if they are coconut-picking machines. Some are transported in cramped cages and others have their canine teeth pulled if they try to resist the training.
The group backed up its claims with a video showing monkeys being kept in small cages and left in the rain as it was transported on the back of a pick-up truck.
The footage also shows others being chained by the neck while sent to work climbing up coconut trees.
Since the information and video shared by Peta are the origins of the boycott, the government must address them instead of beating around the bush.
Engage Peta and enlighten the group if there are any misunderstandings. Where their claims that animal welfare may be compromised whether for the sake of tradition or efficiency are true, the government must make a serious effort to correct them.
As for companies implicated in the campaign, they simply have to provide evidence that they don’t use forced monkey labour as suggested by Peta.
Mr Jurin said the allegations have hurt Thailand’s coconut milk exports which is worth approximately 12.3 billion baht to the country a year. The government must go beyond paying mere lip service to the coconut industry to shore them back up.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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