Don't expect to find coconut milk on Costco shelves on your next shopping trip.
The retailer is the latest pledging not to stock coconut products from Thai suppliers who have been accused of using monkeys as forced labor, officials from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals exclusively told USA TODAY.
Costco follows Walgreens, Food Lion, Giant Food and Stop & Shop, who also stopped stocking brands of coconut milk including Chaokoh after PETA alleged that monkeys in Thailand were picking coconuts.
"No kind shopper wants monkeys to be chained up and treated like coconut-picking machines," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement. "Costco made the right call to reject animal exploitation, and PETA is calling on holdouts like Kroger to follow suit."
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A Costco representative said the company was "not able" to respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment. PETA provided USA TODAY with a letter that Ken Kimble, Costco’s vice president and general merchandise manager of corporate food and sundries, sent to Newkirk.
“We have ceased purchasing from our supplier/owner of the brand Chaokoh,” Kimble wrote in the letter, dated Sept. 29. “We will continue to monitor the implementation of the harvest policies and once satisfied will resume purchasing.”
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In the letter, Kimble said Costco shared Newkirk’s “concern about the alleged treatment of monkeys” and launched an investigation when it became aware of the potential issue.
“We have made it clear to the supplier that we do not support the use of monkeys for harvesting and that all harvesting must be done by human labor,” Kimble wrote. “In turn, our supplier has contractually required the same of all its suppliers. In addition, our supplier is in the process of visiting every one of its supplier farms to communicate the harvest policies.”
The Thailand-based maker of Chaokoh coconut milk, Theppadungporn Coconut Co. Ltd, told USA TODAY that it has audited coconut plantations using a third party and shared a copy of the 14-page “Monkey-Free Coconut Due Diligence Assessment.” The report says 64 farms out of 817 were randomly selected and "did not find the use of monkey for coconut harvesting."
"Following the recent news about the use of “monkey labour” in Thailand’s coconut industry, Chaokoh, one of the world’s leaders in coconut milk production, reassures that we do not engage the use of monkey labour in our coconut plantations," the company said in a statement, which noted that its suppliers have signed memorandums of understanding that no monkey labor at their farms.
Two Chaokoh products were listed on Costco's Business Center website Tuesday, but not the regular Costco site. The brand also was listed for sale on Target, Walmart and Kroger's websites.
Walmart did not immediately comment on whether it would also make changes.
“Kroger has a longstanding commitment to responsible business practices, including the humane treatment of animals,” the retailer said in a statement to USA TODAY. “We have re-engaged our suppliers, as well as other stakeholders, on this issue to re-confirm they are also protecting animal welfare.”
Kroger is the nation's largest grocery chain.
Target told USA TODAY it was also looking into the matter.
"We believe in the humane treatment of animals and expect those who do business with us to do the same," Target said in a statement to USA TODAY Friday. "We’re looking into Chaokoh’s practices and will determine next steps accordingly."
PETA has been pushing stores to stop selling coconut milk allegedly made with coconuts harvested by monkeys since it began investigating the alleged animal exploitation in 2019.
Kent Stein, PETA's corporate responsibility officer, said the investigation found that the monkeys can pick around 400 coconuts a day while in chains. They are then confined to cages.
“Just because something is legal or accepted, it doesn’t mean it’s OK,” Stein said, adding that the Tourism Authority of Thailand website promotes monkey labor. “What really drives this change is retailers not supporting the product, and of course, customers not buying the product. Costco being a major player should have an impact.”
PETA lists on its website coconut milk products that it says don't involve forced monkey labor.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Costco dropping Chaokoh coconut milk over monkey claims, PETA says