|Local animal rights activists in collaboration with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) hold a coconut-dumping protest in front of Royal Thai Embassy in Seoul, Friday. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Park Han-sol
A performer, dressed in a monkey costume with a chain around his neck, pushes a cart piled high with coconuts in front of the Royal Thai Embassy in Yongsan District, Seoul, Friday afternoon. After taking several steps forward, he suddenly empties the cart, leaving dozens of coconuts precariously tumbling down the road, before picking up a sign.
It reads, "THAILAND: Stop Coconut Industry Monkey Abuse."
The protest, performed by Korean animal rights activists in collaboration with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is part of the international animal rights organization's campaign to denounce the abuse of monkeys committed by the coconut industry in Thailand. Similar protests have already been held in countries including the Philippines and Indonesia, as well as across the U.S.
A series of PETA investigations revealed that in many Thai farms, monkeys are confined in cages and are chained when they are used to pick coconuts for milk or oil products, which are then sold by big brands such as Chaokoh. Subject to cruel treatment, these monkeys show signs of extreme stress, some even chewing on their own limbs. When the animals try to defend themselves, their canine teeth may be pulled out to protect farmers, the organization said in a statement.
Although the coconut milk brands produced through monkey labor have been banned in international chains like Tesco and Costco, such products are readily available at large retail stores in Korea, including Lotte Mart, E-mart, and Homeplus, according to local activists.
They noted the recently rising demand for coconut products in the country and urged consumers to be aware of the fact that their purchases can further contribute to animal abuse.
"One thing we are certain of is that in Korea, the demand for coconut oil and milk, promoted as a vegan product, has been increasing at a rapid rate," Kim Young-wha, a representative for Friday's protest, said.
"Also, the cruelty-free coconuts we prepared for today's performance were extremely difficult to find ― an indicator that the products using forced monkey labor are widespread in the market."
Nirali Shah, a senior campaigner at PETA Asia, told The Korea Times that Friday's protest in front of the Thai Embassy was to remind the ambassador of the animal abuse occurring in the Southeast Asian nation and to raise awareness among both officials and consumers to take action.
She added that other coconut-growing regions ― India, Brazil, Colombia and Hawaii ― have implemented humane methods to harvest coconuts as an alternative to monkey labor, by using tractor-mounted hydraulic elevators and willing human tree-climbers.
"PETA has written to every Thai embassy in the world appealing for help, but we have not received a meaningful response from any of them," Shah wrote in an e-mail to The Korea Times.
"Until monkey labor is banned in Thailand's coconut industry, PETA is calling for consumers to stop purchasing products whose coconut ingredients were sourced from Thailand, and for companies to replace Thai coconuts with coconuts from countries where monkeys are not used for picking the fruit."