Necker Island, British Virgin Islands - 17 March 2021
1. SOUNDBITE (English) Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Chairman:
"Well I've always felt strongly that the death penalty is wrong and have campaigned for some years about it. I've met 150 people who were on death row, who subsequently been freed. I've spoken to them, pretty well all of them, and they were amongst the fortunate ones."
2. SOUNDBITE (English) Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Chairman:
"I think a lot of us believe it to be inhumane, to be barbaric, to be flawed. It just doesn't deter or reduce crime. It does not make communities safer. And it has an absolutely shocking rate of error."
3. SOUNDBITE (English) Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Chairman:
"And we would argue with business people who are skeptical that it is actually cheaper to lock somebody up for life than it is to execute them because the cost of all the appeals and so on cost a lot of money. That money could then be spent on health or education or other other uses."
London - 17 March 2021
4. SOUNDBITE (English) Celia Ouellette, CEO, The Responsible Business Initiative for Justice:
"So this campaign is the first time that we've seen business leaders joining forces to use that voice to call for an end to the death penalty globally. They're calling on governments to end the practice and they're calling on their peers in the business community to join them in signing a declaration calling for the global end to the death penalty."
Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson feels the time has come to galvanize business leaders in a movement to eradicate the death penalty, a cause he has ardently supported for years.
A group of 18 business leaders led by the British billionaire launched a campaign Thursday they hope will quickly build, signing a declaration that called on all governments to end executions.
Branson said he hoped to get "hundreds, if not thousands" more business leaders on board over the next six months.
"I'm contacting a lot of business leaders that I've met over the years. I think a lot of us believe it to be inhumane, to be barbaric, to be flawed," Branson said in an interview with The Associated Press before announcing the campaign at the virtual South by Southwest festival.
Telecom billionaire Mo Ibrahim, the co-founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Thrive CEO Arianna Huffington and Jared Smith, co-founder of software vendor Qualtrics, were among the 18 initial signatories.
Business leaders and companies have increasingly waded into social issues in recent years, pushed in part by a new generation of consumers and employees who want to see their values reflected where they work and spend their money.
The shift reached new heights last year after the worldwide Black Lives Matters protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, with corporations pledging billions of dollars toward racial equity initiatives and accelerating their internal diversity goals.
The business leaders, who said they were speaking in a personal capacity, called the death penalty emblematic of the systemic racial injustice companies claim to be trying to fight.
"Business leaders need to do more than just say Black Lives Matter. They need to walk the talk and be instrumental in tearing down all the symbols of structural racism in our society," Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry's, said in a statement.
According to a report by the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, Black people remain overrepresented on U.S. death rows, and Black people who kill white people are far more likely to be sentenced to death than white people who kill Black people.
Although support for the death penalty has waned in recent years, the Trump administration carried out an unrepresented run of 13 executions in six months last year, ending a 17-year hiatus on federal executions.
President Joe Biden has not said whether he will halt federal executions, though he is against the death penalty and has he will work to end its use.
Celia Ouelette, CEO of The Responsible Business Initiative for Justice that is coordinating the campaign, said the hurried executions last year added "real urgency" to the issue that helped draw in business leaders.
She said the signatories would be participating in various events with anti-death penalty activists groups in the next months.
"This is the first time that we've seen business leaders joining forces to call for an end to the death penalty globally," Ouelette said.
Branson said business leaders see the tide turning, symbolized most recently by the Virginia state legislature's vote to abolish capital punishment.
That vote last month held particularly significance for death penalty opponents because Virginia has executed more people than any other state in its long history.
Despite his own longtime advocacy, Branson said the death penalty has not been an issue business leaders have taken up historically.
Social affairs , Social issues , Death penalty controversy , Legislature , State legislature , Government and politics , State governments , State legislature , General news , Law and order , Criminal punishment , Executions
Richard Branson , Mo Ibrahim , Arianna Huffington , Ben Cohen , Joe Biden