Things That Matter

Costco Pulls Chaokoh Coconut Milk Off the Shelves After the Brand Is Accused of Using Forced Monkey Labor

If you’re planning on buying Chaokoh coconut milk on your next trip to Costco, it’s best you look elsewhere. The wholesale giant has reportedly stopped stocking the Thailand-manufactured product due to allegations of forced monkey labor.

You read that right. USA Today reported that Costco expressed concern over Chaokoh’s labor practices after they were made aware of some upsetting accusations.

PETA alleges that monkeys are (often illegally) taken from their families in the wild and kept “chained” and “isolated” on “barren dirty farms” in Thailand where they have little opportunity to interact with their own kind. An investigator recorded upsetting footage.

The footage shows monkeys chained and caged in cramped quarters. One yanks on its cage, ostensibly trying to escape. The monkey are let out to climb trees and pick coconuts–sometimes up to 400 per day– and afterwards, they are once again confined to cages.

The coconuts they pick are used for the production of coconut milk, oils, yogurt, and other coconut-based products. While there, one of the workers told the PETA investigator that they supply their coconuts to Chaokoh.

While Costco will not publicly comment on the matter, USA Today obtained a letter a Costco executive wrote to PETA about the allegations.

“We have ceased purchasing from our supplier/owner of the brand Chaokoh,” wrote Ken Kimble, Costco’s vice president and general merchandise manager, in a letter dated September 29th.

Kimble added: “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. 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.”

Although PETA has obtained footage of the monkey labor practices, the manufacturer of Chaokoh says they have conducted an internal audit of 64 farms out of 817 farms they source from. According to them, they “did not find the use of monkey for coconut harvesting.” They even presented USA Today with a 14-page document entitled the “Monkey-Free Coconut Due Diligence Assessment”.

Costco is not the only retail chain that stopped supplying Chaokoh. Walgreens, Duane Reade, ShopRite and Smart & Final are no longer selling the coconut milk brand due to the alleged animal abuse practices. Meanwhile, Target, Walmart, and Kroger still have the brand listed on their websites.

According to PETA, Thailand is the primary country that employs monkey-labor practices. Other coconut-heavy regions like Brazil, Colombia, and Hawaii use humane methods.

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First Their Food Samples, Now Costco’s Canceled Their Sheet Cakes— What Next The Apocalypse?

Things That Matter

First Their Food Samples, Now Costco’s Canceled Their Sheet Cakes— What Next The Apocalypse?

Tim Boyle / Getty

Life’s rough for a Costco customer these days.

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, card-carrying Costco lovers have faced product restrictions, long lines, and the suspension of food samples. Now the membership-only warehouse has eliminated their iconic half-sheet cakes.

You know. The delicious sugary cakes that have been there for you for every birthday, pool party, and graduation. Even worse? the blow comes right on the heels of July 4th.

Costco quietly put a halt to selling the $20 half-sheet cakes in all of its stores.

The brand has instead been steering to customers toward its 10-inch round cakes and their other baked goods. Outraged customers were quick to spark complaints on Twitter and Facebook promoting the brand to explain in a statement to its Facebook account. “To help limit personal contact and create more space for social distancing, Costco has reduced service in some departments,” Costco wrote on their Facebook page. In a statement to CNN Business, Costco confirmed it’s not selling the half-sheet cakes anymore but has “no immediate plans” to bring it back.

The decision corresponds with recommendations from various US states and health agencies to avoid or prohibit large gatherings amid the current Covid-19 pandemic. Real fans of Costco’s sheet cakes know that they serve about 50 people. And while of course, we know that the store’s decision to promote social distancing is a good one, we still can mourn the indefinite loss of one of America’s greatest comfort foods.

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Giant Costco Products Are Popping Up On Shelves Across Venezuela And Many Are Left Wondering How

Things That Matter

Giant Costco Products Are Popping Up On Shelves Across Venezuela And Many Are Left Wondering How

Manaure Quintero / Reuters

The relationship between the United States and Venezuela is perhaps the most confrontational it has ever been, as the Trump and Maduro administration often trade jabs on social media and through diplomatic channels. The United States is set on decimating the economy of the country by way of economic and trade sanctions, while the government led by Nicolás Maduro has definitely not made things easier for its citizens.

Measures of austerity and the fact that many foreign companies are fleeing the country has led to daily financial struggle and lack of even the most basic products for Venezuelans, many of whom have decided to flee to the United States, Australia and Europe if they belong to the elite, or to neighbouring Colombia as migrants if they have to survive as refugees. However, if Latin Americans set themselves apart for anything, it  is the creative ways in which we survive and find opportunities that few would spot.

An increasing influx of US products are flooding Venezuelan shelves.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

But how is this possible if trade between the countries is practically at a standstill? Well, people have taken matters on their own hands. Venezuelan businessmen have established a distribution network of basic products such as non perishing food and toiletries bought in bulk at discount stores in Florida such as Costco. These products are then sent to Venezuela on a door to door delivery service. Once in Venezuela they are put on the shelves of bodega style shops called bodegones.

Reuters reports on how this informal economy works: “The products move in bulk via shipping companies with bases in south Florida who have this year enjoyed a 100% exemption of import duties and waiver of some paperwork at the Venezuelan end, the sources added.”

Because the formal commercial relationships between Venezuela and the US are stalled, this type of activity is possible and provides what Reuters calls an unlikely valve that relieves some pressure for Maduro’s government, which has led to an unprecedented lack of basic products such as toilet paper. 

Some of the shops are even named after the original United States stores.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

This shop located in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, is named after Walmart, and we are sure that the headquarters in the United States are either unaware or don’t really care. Costco is not the only shop in which buyers in the United States acquire goods to send to Venezuela (for a fee, of course). There are services through which Venezuelas can mail goods to United States addresses from shops like Target. This is a type of informal economy that has boomed due to the scarcity of local products.

However, let’s keep in mind that the social gap is huge, perhaps insurmountable at this point, and that these products are sold at hefty prices that few can afford. As Reuters reports: “Though the goods in the corner-shops are out of reach for most bolivar-earning Venezuelans, a well-heeled elite with dollars makes for a viable business in indulgence products.”

Hector Mambe, owner of this Mini Walmart, told Reuters: “Everything our customers want from the United Sates, we’ve managed to offer here!”

The response of US companies? Deaf silence. As Reuters informs us: “Costco declined to comment, while Walmart did not respond to a request. Venezuela’s Information Ministry, tax authority and state port agency also did not respond to requests for comment.” Business seems to be booming right?

And many of these shops are dollar-only.

Credit: Manaure Quintero / Reuters

As the Bolivar depreciated, Maduro lifted the ban on dollar transactions. Just like happened in socialist Cuba before with tourist-only shops, there are establishments in Venezuela that only trade in US dollars, which is counter intuitive to the anti-imperialist rhetoric of the post-Chavez Venezuela. Other Global South economies have relied in the US dollar in the past, such as Cambodia, where the booming tourist industry trades almost exclusively in the foreign currency. 

And this practice is out in the open, it has ceased to be secretive, and people are criticizing it.

Timothy Aeppel, a journalist for Reuters, stresses the irony of not being to buy medicine in the country, but cake mix is now available if you have the cash. One of the many contradictions of the Maduro regime. Even though the government still has some support from fellow socialist nations in South America and elsewhere, even the most fierce defenders of the Venezuela Chavista sometimes find it hard to justify the economic decisions that have led the South American nation to a generalized state of anxiety and desperation.

While others think that this only serves the elites.

Yes, there are more products available now due to this strange availability of US brands, but is this another way of just perpetuating the class differentials between those who support Maduro and those who oppose him?

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