Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is calling for a permanent end to capital punishment around the globe, and he wants more business leaders to get on board.
The 70-year-old British billionaire announced a new campaign to build support for abolishing the death penalty at a virtual South By Southwest event Thursday.
“I have always thought the death penalty is barbaric, inhumane and that governments should not be in the business of executing their own people,” Branson said during the pre-recorded panel. “Businesses and their leaders must go beyond their companies and be a force for good in society. This must include issues we find unacceptable, including the death penalty.”
Branson also unveiled a declaration to end the death penalty that has already been signed by 19 other prominent business leaders, including Ben and Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield and Huffington Post co-founder Ariana Huffington.
Over the next seven months, Branson’s campaign will work to get more global business leaders to sign the declaration and support abolition efforts. An updated list of signees is set to be unveiled on World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10.
Other leaders who have signed the declaration include former Tiffany & Co. CEO Alessandro Bogliolo, Mobile Systems International founder Mo Ibrahim, 23andMe CEO Anna Wojcicki and Vista Equity Partners founder Robert Smith.
Abolishing the death penalty is “a moral imperative that all of humanity should support,” the declaration says. It describes the practice as an often racist, inhumane, irreversible and extreme form of punishment.
The United Nations reports that 170 of its 193 member countries have already abolished or ceased the practice of state-sponsored executions. Even Russia hasn’t performed an official state execution since 1996, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.
The United States is one of the few UN member countries that hasn’t abolished the death penalty even though recent polling suggests Americans’ support for ending the practice has reached historic highs.
Although a majority of Americans still support the death penalty for convicted murderers —55% according to a fall 2020 US Gallup poll — 43% of respondents said it should be abolished, the highest level of opposition to the practice since the 1960s.
The Trump administration resumed executing federal death row inmates in 2020 despite dwindling support for the death penalty. The federal government executed 10 inmates during Trump’s final year in office, ending a 17-year moratorium by the US government, according to the Associated Press.
Cohen and Greenfield characterized the death penalty as a lasting symbol of structural racism. Killers of White Americans are 17 times more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of Black Americans, according to a 2020 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review study.
“The death penalty has a long history with oppression,” the Ben & Jerry’s co-founders said in a written statement. “It needs to end. Now.”