In the wake of the anti-trans-fat movement, the palm oil industry saw tremendous growth as consumers and manufacturers sought to replace the unhealthy hydrogenated oils with a more sustainable and healthful option.
But to make room for palm fruit plantations much of the tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia are being cleared for planting. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area equivalent to 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared every hour to make room for palm oil production.
Elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, orangutans and all species of bird and insect are being pushed out of their habitat with no where to go at an alarming rate.
What's worse is that when these displaced animals are caught eating the palm flower crops of these plantations they are shot, beaten to death and even set on fire.
When news of these atrocities got back to consumers many vegan brands switched to the more-ethical coconut oil, and boy did coconut oil take off in the marketplace.
If you don't own a jar of coconut oil by now there's a good chance you've at least seen the millions of tutorials, memes and posts about the wonders of coconut oil and all the things you can do with it.
It quickly became the standard oil used to make vegan personal care products.
To further fuel the industry, coconut water sales have skyrocketed from half a million liters to almost 200 million in the last year.
But is the coconut oil industry any better than palm oil?
Apparently coconuts are harvested by captive monkeys that are kept chained to a trainer while they pick the coconuts from the high trees-and load them in the truck.
It is the industry practice. People don't pick coconuts because a male macaque can harvest an average of 1,600 coconuts per day where a human worker can collect about 80.
Monkeys pick coconuts in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia and India. Indonesia is the number one coconut producing nation in the world, producing over 18 million tons of coconuts annually.
“It would be difficult to find a coconut product made in Thailand that wasn’t picked by a monkey,” says Arjen Schroevers, who runs the Monkey Training School in Surat Thani, Thailand.
But there's mixed opinion on whether the treatment of these animals is humane.
Schroevers' school is also a tourist attraction. Their website describes their services as "a first class educational and fun demonstration with trained monkeys, as well demonstration classes with monkeys that are still being trained in different stages of their study. You can stay overnight in our chalet, where you can experience a lovely homestay right in the vicinity of the monkey students."
Their website claims they use Buddhist practices in their training methods as a direct opposition to the traditionally beaten monkeys so common in the industry.
But whether this facility is compassionate or not doesn't make up for the fact that these wild animals are being kept, bred, collected and held captive in order to make a profit.
The Bangkok Post investigated another facility:
"On the website of one training centre, monkeys are branded as “efficient industrial agriculture labour” and it states that they are “strong...are not afraid of heights, do not complain, do not call for higher wages ... They do not require social security and accident insurance. Monkeys are therefore considered a ‘living machine’ that is very valuable for coconut farmers."
And in a Huffington Post interview, a monkey handler told the media giant that, “Sometimes the monkeys are offspring of berok (already trained monkeys); sometimes they are caught [by poachers] on the forest with nets or traps. Often though, nursing mothers are shot and their babies are taken.”
Whether these monkeys are well-treated or not, ask yourself this: If you were a monkey would you be dying to be put on a chain and collar to pick and haul coconuts all day? No. We dread Monday without a chain around our neck. If we were caged, shackled and held against our will it would be called slavery.
So far the following brands claim their suppliers do not use monkeys in the collection of their coconuts: Essential Trading, 3 Buddhas, Aunt Patty’s, BetterBody Foods, Carrington Farms, Dr. Bronner’s, Earth Circle Organics, Harmless Harvest, Maison Orphee, Naked Coconuts, Nutiva, Ojio, So Delicious, Silk, and Spectrum Organics.
But if they source their coconuts from Thailand, there's a 99% chance they were picked by primates.