Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Erik Karits/Unsplash
It seems human rights abuses aren’t the only labor issues companies need to watch out for in their supply chains. Here, Thailand-based Theppadungporn Coconut Company details how it partnered to create the first audit scheme specifically designed to uncover monkey labor.
Was a monkey forced to pick the coconut that became the water, milk or cosmetic
product in your kitchen or bookshelf? If it came from Thailand, it’s a real
risk. The use of monkey
in the Thai coconut industry has long been criticized as being inhumane and
cruel to the animals, who are kept in crowded cages and forced to harvest
coconuts in sometimes dangerous conditions.
Theppadungporn Coconut Company (TCC) — a third-generation, family-owned
company that, over the past half-century, has grown into one of Thailand’s
leading exporters of popular coconut products including coconut milk, coconut
water and more to the United States and dozens of other countries — was
confident that its suppliers weren’t using monkey labor. As it turned out, just
stating that was not enough — the company had to be able to prove it.
“When we were accused of using monkey labor, we realized that we have to be more
transparent — to ensure and show that there is no monkey labor in our supply
chain,” Teetiphun Theppadungporn, International Marketing and Sales Manager
at TCC, told Sustainable Brands™. He’s referring to a 2019
from PETA Asia, which alleged that one farm producing coconut milk for TCC’s
Chaokoh brand was using monkey labor.
But how exactly does a company verify that workers — human or otherwise — aren’t
being exploited in its supply chain? It’s not a service you’ll find on the
websites of any major auditors, not an option in supply-chain tracking software
programs. To demonstrate that its supply chain was free of monkey labor, TCC had
to work with third-party partners to help create entirely new auditing and
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“Auditing has been difficult,” Theppadungporn says. “It’s the first audit in
this scheme, because no one has been auditing monkey labor before.”
TCC decided to work with Bureau Veritas, a leader in
this space with extensive ties in Thailand. Together, they created a new
methodology and embarked on the hard task of mapping the supply chains, doing
field visits and collecting data. So far, “the results show that our supply
chain is clean,” Theppadungporn says.
Monkey labor may get headlines, but it’s a relatively minor issue in terms of
scale; it’s only used in Thailand — not other major coconut-producing countries
such as Indonesia. Sri Lanka or the Philippines. But it does point
to the need for companies all along the coconut supply chain to be proactive
when it comes to sustainability. Coconuts grow in tropical regions — alongside
other commodities such as palm
which have been accused of enabling
“It’s time for us to be aware of sustainability; and as an industry leader, we
want to be the one who leads the change in the coconut industry — both in
Thailand and the world,” Theppadungporn says.
There are industry-wide efforts, too — such as the newly launched Sustainable
Coconut and Coconut Oil Roundtable
— which aims to bring public, private and civil society partners together to
improve sustainability in the coconut industry, recognizing that working
together can be more powerful and impactful.
“The launch and the signing of the Sustainable Coconut Charter was the first
important step,” Massimo Selmo, Chief Procurement Officer for Barry
Callebaut — a Swiss
chocolate maker and major coconut consumer, said in a press
“Now it is time to take action and transform its principles into concrete
actions on the ground.”
As for monkey labor? While Theppadungporn is confident that monkeys aren’t being
used by its suppliers, he knows that other growers in Thailand are still taking
advantage of this unethical practice. He hopes that TCC’s pledge will inspire
other Thai coconut companies to also make a similar shift and put an end to this
practice for good.
“We want to work with all coconut manufacturers in Thailand,” Theppadungporn
says. “As the leader in the industry, we want to be the one who leads and drives
the change.” To start this, TCC is working with the nonprofit Wildlife Friends
Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate abused monkeys — no matter where they
TCC’s experience shows that being willing to be open, transparent, and work with
partners on supply chain issues helps build trust with customers and consumers.
That is the power of backing your sustainability claims and statements with
independent, verifiable evidence.
Published Jan 24, 2022 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.