DEFINITION of Protest Divestment

Protest divestment refers to the selling of assets on a large scale in order to create financial pressure on a company or government to force social change. Protest divestment is a form of shareholder activism.

BREAKING DOWN Protest Divestment

As an example of protest divestment, in the late 1980s, students at many American universities lobbied their schools' endowment funds to stop investing in South Africa. Their goal was to force South Africa's government to end apartheid. The attention this raised forced many corporations to follow suit, and by 1990 more than 200 U.S. companies had cut ties with the country, resulting in the direct loss of $1 billion of investment.

The attention the protest garnered put the issue of apartheid in the national spotlight and Congress passed a series of economic sanctions as a result. This economic pressure created social change as South Africa's government was forced to end racial segregation and give non-whites the right to vote.

More recently, protest divestment efforts have been directed at university endowments to pressure them into divesting of investments in companies that develop fossil fuels.