Divestment is a form of direct action that is historically proven to be effective at bringing about relatively rapid social change. Most notably, divestment was utilized in the anti-South African Apartheid movement of the 1980s, when college students at campuses across the United States successfully persuaded their respective institutions to remove investments from South African-based businesses.
The manner in which the anti-apartheid divestment movement was successful serves as an example of the potential for divestment to politically bankrupt a targeted institution. In this case, the financial effects of divestment on the targeted South African companies were negligible; however, the political consequences to said companies were great. Indeed, the divestment movement was an important factor in the passage of the United States' 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act.
Less well-known than the anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s, the tobacco divestment movement of the 1990s was, nonetheless, effective. This movement was successful in stigmatizing investments in tobacco product corporations as "sin stock," or stocks that are considered socially irresponsible and unacceptable to invest in.
The contemporary fossil fuel divestment movement aims to employ the same tactics that were used in the anti-apartheid and anti-tobacco campaigns. Fossil fuel divestment is history's fastest growing divestment movement. Considering the success of the movements that fossil fuel divestment is outperforming, the potential of the contemporary movement is incredible.