It took decades of struggle, led by the recently deceased Nelson Mandela, to fell the system of racial apartheid in South Africa. A crucial blow was struck in the 1980s by the worldwide divestment campaign, an economic boycott encouraging countries, universities and other institutions to pull their money from South African companies profiting off apartheid.
Though the tactic of divestment has become synonymous with South Africa, it didn’t end there. Social justice activists around the world have since used it to hit private prison companies or national governments where it hurts most – the pocketbook.
Here are four campaigns using divestment as a tactic:
Divestment from Israel as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign: This is an international campaign that calls for the withdrawal of stocks and funds from corporations that benefit from the occupation of Palestine, including universities, unions and pension funds. It has had some success: most recently, a Dutch company withdrew from a project to build a sewage plant on an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. The divestment tactic is part of the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Fossil Fuels: Led by environmental activist Bill McKibben’s 350.org, the fossil fuel divestment movement offers activists a blueprint to help push their universities, churches and local governments to divest from fossil fuels. The campaign was launched in November 2012 and has since spread to campuses around the country. It also sent representatives to the recent Warsaw Climate Talks to argue against fossil fuel lobbying.
Private Prisons: This campaign is led by unions, community groups, and non-profit advocacy groups, many of whom also work on immigrant rights issues. Its goal is to call on all public and private institutions to divest their holdings in the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies in the United States. One part of the campaign targeting Wells Fargo led the bank to dump 75 percent of its GEO Group stock, according to one of the umbrella groups leading the boycott.
Sudan: The Sudan divestment campaign was initiated in 2006 to convince shareholders like unions and universities around the world to divest all stocks from the Sudanese government, which they said was committing genocide in Darfur. According to a federal review of the Sudan divestment movement, 22 states adopted or froze altogether more than $3 billion in assets from the Sudanese government.