New York University has banned the sale of Coke products at its universities:
The Coke products ban is in protest of the company's failure to submit to an independent investigation of its bottling plants in Colombia, where workers have accused Coke of human rights abuses. Coke has maintained the allegations by the Colombian union SINALTRAINAL are "completely false," has noted that the company was dismissed from a 2001 lawsuit the union filed in federal court in Miami and said an independent investigation found no evidence of human rights violations.
NYU said students at more than 70 colleges and universities across the country have called for an investigation into allegations made by members of SINALTRAINAL. Over the last 16 years, seven Coca-Cola workers affiliated with SINALTRAINAL allegedly have been murdered, harassed, intimidated, threatened, kidnapped or fired for their union activities.
I am not familiar with the situation between SINALTRAINAL, Coca-Cola, and the Colombian government. If Coca-Cola officials looked the other way or were complicit in the murder or kidnapping of union activists, then that's despicable. But why is banning the sale of Coke at NYU the solution givne what is known at this point?
First off, had NYU not enacted the ban, then some students, faculty, and staff would continue to buy Coke because they prefer it over all the other alternative. Voluntary exchange between two people is expected to make them better off. The problem with allowing voluntary exchange from some peoples' point of view (as Milton Friedman once said), is that it allows people to do what they want rather than to make them do what others think they should do. Banning the sale of Coke products prohibits some voluntary exchanges from happening which makes people worse off. Is this not, in some sense, a human rights violation?
Second, this ban is an attempt to "stick it to the man." But in sticking it to the man, the backers of the ban also stick it to many little guys: the various workers at Coke bottling plants and the various Coke drivers out there, many of which may well be union members themselves. If someone loses their job because of a ban, is this not, in some sense, a human rights violation?
I see that the University of Michigan has gotten on board.
A friend of mine likens such calls to action to the reaction that many people have when they encounter such dangerous creatures as garter snakes. That gut reaction is to kill the snake, no matter that it is harmless to humans. Besides, the ban ensures the activists that others who don't, for whatever reason, share their opinion participate in their activity nonetheless.
There's nothing like a little hard paternalism, eh?
My soda preferences are dynamic: they change over time. Right now I have a preferences for a product bottled by the local Pepsi bottler: Dr. Pepper. That's a good thing when I'm at work because on my campus, Coke products are not sold.