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Disinvestment

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 policy of apartheid. The term has also been applied to actions targeting Iran, Sudan, Northern Ireland, Myanmar, and Israel.

Contents

  • Targets 1
    • Industries 1.1
    • Environment 1.2
    • Companies 1.3
    • Nations 1.4
      • Iran 1.4.1
      • South Africa 1.4.2
      • Northern Ireland 1.4.3
      • Cuba 1.4.4
      • Sudan 1.4.5
      • Israel 1.4.6
      • Others 1.4.7
  • Criticism 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4

Targets

Industries

Environment

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 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 350.org 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”

Companies

  • Talisman Energy - because of its status as the main Western oil company in Sudan in the early 2000s.

Nations

Iran

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

South Africa

The most frequently-encountered method of "disinvesting" 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 Sean MacBride), which called for American and other foreign companies to take the initiative in alleviating alleged discrimination 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.

Cuba

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.

Sudan

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 companies that do business with the Sudanese government responsible for genocide in Darfur. Prompted by the State of Illinois - the first government in the U.S.A. to divest - scores of public and private-sector entities are now following suit. In New York City, Councilman Eric Gioia recently introduced a resolution to divest City pension funds from companies doing business with Sudan.

The recent divestment of assets implicated in funding the government of

Israel

Others

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.[14]

Criticism

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." [15]

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." [15]

The common perception about the effectiveness of divestment lies in 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.

Divestment can also be seen as a means of besmirching a particular company. Negative public perception can lead to reform and changes in policy.

See also

References

  1. ^ Bradsher, Keith (1999-12-07). "Ford Announces Its Withdrawal From Global Climate Coalition".  
  2. ^ "GCC Suffers Technical Knockout, Industry defections decimate Global Climate Coalition". 
  3. ^ "Canvassing Works". Canvassing Works. Retrieved 2013-07-19. 
  4. ^ http://www.ashscotland.org.uk/ash/4419.html
  5. ^ http://www.macalester.edu/weekly/Archive/10-17-96/news/tobacco.html
  6. ^ http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=370&Itemid=115
  7. ^ http://www.labournet.net/other/0710/lccawar1.html
  8. ^ http://gofossilfree.org/
  9. ^ http://www.wearepowershift.org/campaigns/divestcoal Power Shift
  10. ^ The Pension Fund Attack On Iran, Niv Elis, 10.16.09, Forbes
  11. ^ http://findarticles.com/p/articles/eng/mi_m1058/is_6_117/ai_60026681. 
  12. ^ http://www.sudanreeves.org/Sections-req-viewarticle-artid-393-allpages-1-theme-Printer.html
  13. ^ http://www.genocideintervention.net/
  14. ^ "EnCana says still studying Alberta royalty change," Reuters, Nov 5, 2007
  15. ^ a b The Lion in Winter - Boston Magazine
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