Simply put, it’s the opposite of investment. A stakeholder sells or otherwise withdraws its financial support for a specific company or sector. The goal can be a financial one, but more commonly it’s used to advance a social cause such as protesting land mines, tobacco, or sweatshop labor, to name a few. Perhaps the most famous case came in the 1980s when investment institutions across the United States sold their stocks in companies working in South Africa to protest apartheid, the country’s system of racial segregation.
Divestment has reemerged in recent years as a means for organizing people and institutions around the issue of climate change. Spearheaded by activist group 350.org, some environmentalists are calling for widespread divestment from companies involved in the extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas.