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Disinvestment refers to the use of a concerted economic boycott to pressure a government, industry, or company towards a change in policy, or in the case of governments, even regime change. The term was first used in the 1980s, most commonly in the United States, to refer to the use of a concerted economic boycott designed to pressure the government of South Africa into abolishing its apartheid regime. The term has also been applied to actions targeting Iran, Sudan, Northern Ireland, Myanmar, Israel, China and Russia|.




Further information: Fossil fuel divestment

There is a movement to disinvest from coal, oil and gas companies. It is a social movement which urges everyone from individual investors to large endowed institutions to remove their investments (to divest) from publicly listed oil, gas and coal companies, with the intention of combating climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, and holding the oil, gas and coal companies responsible for their role in climate change.

Founder of the movement Bill McKibben, a researcher and academic from University of Victoria, and creator of the webpage stated: “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from the wreckage. We believe […] organizations that serve the public good should divest from fossil fuels”




Main article: Disinvestment from Iran

Eighteen American states have passed laws requiring the divestment of state pension funds from firms doing business with Iran.[10]

South Africa

Main article: Disinvestment from South Africa

The most frequently-encountered method of "dis-investing" was to persuade state, county and municipal governments to sell their stock in companies which had a presence in South Africa, such shares having been previously placed in the portfolio of the state's, county's or city's pension fund. Several states and localities did pass legislation ordering the sale of such securities, most notably the city of San Francisco. An array of celebrities, including singer Paul Simon, actively supported the cause.

Many conservatives opposed the disinvestment campaign, accusing its advocates of hypocrisy for not also proposing that the same sanctions be leveled on either the Soviet Union or the People's Republic of China. Ronald Reagan, who was the President of the United States during the time the disinvestment movement was at its peak, also opposed it, instead favoring a policy of "constructive engagement" with the Pretoria regime. Some offered as an alternative to disinvestment the so-called "Sullivan Principles", named after Reverend Leon Sullivan, an African-American clergyman who served on the Board of Directors of General Motors. These principles called for corporations doing business in South Africa to adhere to strict standards of non-discrimination in hiring and promotions, so as to set a positive example.

Northern Ireland

There was also a less well-publicized movement to apply the strategy of disinvestment to Northern Ireland, as some prominent Irish-American politicians sought to have state and local governments sell their stock in companies doing business in that part of the United Kingdom. This movement featured its own counterpart to the Sullivan Principles; known as the "MacBride Principles" (named for Nobel Peace Prize winner Seán MacBride), which called for American and other foreign companies to take the initiative in nondiscrimination against Roman Catholics by adopting policies resembling affirmative action. The effort to disinvest in Northern Ireland met with little success, but the United States Congress did pass (and then-President Bill Clinton signed) a law requiring American companies with interests there to implement most of the MacBride Principles in 1998.[citation needed]


Though in place long before the term "disinvestment" was coined, the United States embargo against Cuba meets many of the criteria for designation as such — and a provision more closely paralleling the disinvestment strategy aimed at South Africa was added in 1996, when the United States Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which penalized owners of foreign businesses which invested in former American firms that had been nationalized by Fidel Castro's government after the Cuban revolution of 1959. The passage of this law was widely seen as a reprisal for an incident in which Cuban military aircraft shot down two private planes flown by Cuban exiles living in Florida, who were searching for Cubans attempting to escape to Miami.


During the late 1990s and early 2000s several Christian groups in North America campaigned for disinvestment from Sudan because of the Muslim-dominated government's long conflict with the breakaway, mostly Christian region of Southern Sudan. One particular target of this campaign was the Canadian oil company, Talisman Energy which eventually left the country, and was supplanted by Chinese investors.[11][12]

There is currently a growing movement to divest from those that do business with the Sudanese government responsible for genocide in Darfur. Prompted by the State of Illinois – the first government in the US to divest – scores of public and private-sector entities are now following suit. In New York City, Councilman Eric Gioia introduced a resolution to divest City pension funds from companies doing business with Sudan.[citation needed]

The divestment of assets implicated in funding the government of Sudan, in acknowledgment of acts of terrorism and genocide perpetrated in the Darfur conflict. In the United States, this divestment has taken place at the state level (including Illinois, which led the way, followed by New Jersey, Oregon, and Maine). It has also taken place at many North American university endowments, including Cornell University, Harvard University, Case Western Reserve University, Queen's University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Amherst College, Yale University, Brown University, the University of California, the University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis University, the University of Colorado, American University, University of Delaware, Emory University, and the University of Vermont.[citation needed]

The Sudan Divestment Task Force[13] has organized a nationwide group which advocates a targeted divestment policy, to minimize any negative effects on Sudanese civilians while still placing financial pressure on the government. The so-called 'targeted divestment approach' generally permits investment in Sudan, and is thus radically different from the comprehensive divestment that ended apartheid in South Africa.[citation needed]

Under this approach, sponsored by State Senator Jacqueline Collins, public pensions are prohibited from investing in any corporation or private equity firm that conducts business in Sudan, unless authorized to do so by the U.S. Government.


Disinvestment from Israel is a campaign that aims to use disinvestment to pressure the government of Israel to put "an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories captured during the 1967 military campaign." The disinvestment campaign is related to other economic and political boycotts of Israel.

A notable campaign was initiated in 2002 and endorsed by South Africa's Desmond Tutu.[14] Tutu said that the campaign against Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories and its continued settlement expansion should be modeled on the successful historical disinvestment campaign against South Africa's apartheid system.[14]

There have been renewed calls for disinvestment from Israel in 2024 as pro-Palestine protests in the United States have increased nationwide there, especially on college campuses.


Main article: Disinvestment from Russia

Several companies, such as oil giants BP and Shell, have disinvested from Russia following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. TikTok, also as a result of the invasion, also no longer allows new posts to be published in Russian territory, and YouTube does not allow Russian-backed channels to be monetised on the platform.[15]


Main article: Disinvestment from China

In January 2020, students at University of California, Los Angeles passed a resolution calling for divestment from China. In August 2020, Under Secretary of State Keith Krach called upon university administrators in the United States to divest their endowments from companies in China. In the letter, Krach cited an open letter released nationally in May 2020 by College Democrats and College Republicans that was written by the student-organized Athenai Institute, and numerous other organizations and individuals which called for the disclosure of all ties "between centers of higher learning and all Chinese state agencies and proxies".[16]

In October 2021, students at The Catholic University of America unanimously passed a resolution, with the Athenai Institute calling upon their university administration to divest its endowment from companies complicit in the genocide of Uyghurs conducted by the Chinese government.[17] This resulted in Catholic University committing to audit and divest its endowment, becoming the first university in the world to do so. According to Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, this action marked the beginning of the "Uyghur Genocide University Divestment Movement".[18] Following this, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility at Yale University committed to examine potential investments in Chinese companies tied to human rights abuses.[19] In January 2022, students at Georgetown University circulated an open letter calling for divestment from China. The letter was supported by a coalition of Georgetown's College Democrats, College Republicans, Muslim Student Association, Hong Kong Student Association, as well as individuals. Following this, the Georgetown University Student Association introduced and unanimously passed a resolution calling upon the university to divest its endowment.[20] Similar action was taken by a coalition of students at the George Washington University in February 2022.[21]


Myanmar (formerly Burma) has also been the target of disinvestment campaigns (most notably the Massachusetts Burma Law initiated by the state of Massachusetts). Divestment campaigns have also been directed against Saudi Arabia due to allegations of "gender apartheid". The University of California, Riverside's Hillel chapter has a Saudi Divestment petition circulating as of 2007.

In 2007, several major international and Canadian oil companies threatened to withdraw investment from the province of Alberta because of a proposed increase in royalty rates.[22]


Some hold that divestment campaigns are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how stock markets work. John Silber, former president of Boston University, observed that while boycotting a company's products would actually affect their business, "once a stock issue has been made, the corporation doesn't care whether you sell it, burn it, or anything else, because they've already got all the money they're ever going to get from that stock. So they don't care."[23]

Regarding the more specific case of South Africa, John Silber recalled:

...when the students were protesting the South African situation, I met with them, and they said BU must divest in General Motors and IBM. And I said, "Why should we do that? Is it immoral to own that stock?" Absolutely immoral to own it. And I said, "So then, we're supposed to sell it to somebody? We can't divest unless we sell it to somebody. And if we burn the stock, that just helps General Motors, because it reduces the amount of stock outstanding, so that can't be right. If we sell it to somebody, we have just gotten rid of our guilt in order to impose guilt on somebody else."[23]

One criticism of divestment focuses on the belief that institutional selling of a certain stock lowers its market value. Therefore, the company's net worth becomes devalued and the owners of the company may lose substantial paper assets. In addition, institutional divestment may encourage other investors to sell their stocks for fear of lower prices, which in turn lowers prices even further. Finally, lower stock prices limits a corporation's ability to sell a portion of their stocks in order to raise funds to expand the business.

This assumption about the intent behind many divestment movements is often incorrect. Divestment executions are often forms of denouncement and delegitimization of an industry, such as in the fossil-fuel divestment movement. Negative public perception can lead to reform and changes in policy, both privately for the company and in the public sphere.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Bradsher, Keith (1999-12-07). "Ford Announces Its Withdrawal From Global Climate Coalition". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  2. ^ "GCC Suffers Technical Knockout, Industry defections decimate Global Climate Coalition". June 2022.
  3. ^ "Canvassing Works". Canvassing Works. Retrieved 2013-07-19.
  4. ^ "Page not found - ASH Scotland". Retrieved 18 October 2018. ((cite web)): Cite uses generic title (help)
  5. ^ "The Mac Weekly:News". Archived from the original on 2005-02-25. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  6. ^ "Stop the War Coalition". Archived from the original on 19 October 2018. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  7. ^ "Liverpool City Council votes to disinvest in arms trade". Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  8. ^ "Fossil Free". Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  9. ^ Archived 2012-06-15 at the Wayback Machine Power Shift
  10. ^ Elis, Niv. "The Pension Fund Attack On Iran". Forbes. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  11. ^ ((cite news)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "The Episcopal Church (US) formally resolves to divest from shareholding in Talisman Energy, October 25, 2001 :: :: Sudan Research, Analysis, and Advocacy". Archived from the original on 2008-03-03. Retrieved 2007-12-04.
  13. ^ "". Retrieved 2021-10-13.
  14. ^ a b Desmond Tutu & Ian Urbina (27 June 2002). "Israeli apartheid". The Nation (275): 4–5. Archived from the original on 4 March 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2006.
  15. ^ Duprey, Rich (2022-03-10). "How Big of a Risk Is Russian Divestment?". The Motley Fool. Retrieved 2022-04-27.
  16. ^ Allen-Ebrahimian, Bethany (2020-05-13). "College Democrats and Republicans denounce racism and the Chinese Communist Party". Axios. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  17. ^ "The Catholic University of America Divestment Resolution". Washington Post. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  18. ^ "Opinion | The Uyghur genocide university divestment movement is here". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  19. ^ Mousavizadeh, Philip (2022-01-26). "Yale to begin investigating potential Chinese investments in light of human rights concerns". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  20. ^ "GUSA passes a resolution calling for divestment connected to the genocide of Uyghur Muslims". The Georgetown Voice. 2022-02-08. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  21. ^ "Petition urges GW to divest from ties to Uyghur genocide". The GW Hatchet. 2022-02-14. Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  22. ^ "EnCana says still studying Alberta royalty change". Reuters. 5 November 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  23. ^ a b "The Lion in Winter: Full Transcript". 15 May 2006. Retrieved 18 October 2018.