'Wake up and ban unfair coffee'

Andrew Gumbel
Wednesday 04 December 2013 06:13
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Voters in Berkeley – home to the University of California and long recognised as America's capital of political correctness – will be asked whether they want to ban the sale of standard coffee in favour of "Fair Trade" beans that guarantee the growers a living wage well above standard market rates.

The ballot measure this November has raised eyebrows even here, not least because it proposes up to six months in jail and a hefty fine for anyone violating the ban.

Even Berkeley's mayor Shirley Dean, a woman of impeccable liberal credentials who supports the Fair Trade movement, has gone on record saying this goes too far. "Who's going to enforce this?" she asked after the measure was accepted as a ballot initiative. "I can't believe anybody would be sent to jail for that."

The ballot measure was the brainchild of Rick Young, a recent law graduate from the University of California. "At first maybe it's shocking," he conceded. "But when [people] think about it a little, they say, 'well, we did ban leaded gas'."

News of the ballot initiative has prompted the usual guffaws from American conservatives who already think of Berkeley as fruitcake central. But it's not the only place where coffee and political correctness are forming alliances. In Seattle, home of Starbucks, there is talk of imposing a 10-cent tax on espressos to fund childcare programmes.

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