Start a divestment campaign

There are many ways in which a campaign can put pressure upon an organisation to divest from complicity in facilitating the apartheid system.

The campaign to achieve the divestment of the Norwegian Pension Fund from Elbit Systems has been the first divestment from a company explicitly on the grounds of its involvement with Wall. Information and appeals were sent to the Fund’s Ethical Council, which determines based on a code of ethics if companies should be excluded, ultimately leading the Fund to withdraw from Elbit.

Another example can be seen in the campaign calling the retirement fund giant TIAA-CREF to step investing in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. Whilst proclaiming its adherence to social responsibility the organisation invests in companies including Motorola, Elbit Systems and G4S.

The following points, drawn from the experience of these and other campaigns, may be helpful in choosing a company to target for divestment.

1. Linking with an international campaign. It is easier to join and build on a campaign than to start a new one, and companies already the target of a campaign should be a priority.

2. Discovering the size of the investment. Both large and small investments have their benefits and drawbacks. While the loss of a large investment has the opportunity to make a more tangible effect on a company’s policies, divestment efforts may be more difficult. The loss of smaller investments, while not making a huge financial dent, may be easier to affect and are still effective in raising awareness about BDS and creating spaces for other campaigners.

3. Assessing the likelihood that a given fund will divest based on its specific guidelines. In the case of Norway, campaigners were able to utilize the Fund’s ethical guidelines, which permit the Ethical Council to investigate investments held in companies accused of “violations of fundamental humanitarian principles, serious violations of human rights, gross corruption or severe environmental damages” and recommend divestment. Similar mechanisms exist in other investment funds; if not, activists may be able to campaign for the incorporation of some sort of binding ethical guidelines.

4. Assessing the likelihood for divestment from a particular company based on a fund’s record of divestment. The Norwegian fund has previously divested from companies for violations. In total 125 companies are currently excluded, the majority for their involvement in the production of various types of weapons, and several more for environmental destruction or violations of labour rights. Other investment funds may have similar histories, and these can be important precedents to build on as well as to gauge the likelihood of success.

5. Gaining support from stakeholders. For the Norwegian Pension Fund, with the stakeholder being the Norwegian people, civil society and political parties were key in pushing for divestment. If the investments in question are held by a church, union or university, the targeted company should be engaged in activities that the stakeholders are likely to oppose and can rally against.

6. Using legal mechanisms. International and human rights law can be a useful tool in divestment campaigns, both with state and government investments and pension funds as well as against private companies. The Wall is being built in defiance of international and humanitarian law, and in disregard of the 2004 International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision. As such, companies in states that incorporate international law into their national legal system can be prosecuted in national courts. For example, Veolia and Alstom, two French multinationals are on trial in French courts for violations of international law through their involvement in the settlement light rail in Jerusalem.

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