A group of business leaders have launched a campaign calling for an end to capital punishment. Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson (pictured) announced the initiative at the virtual South By Southwest festival on March 18, 2021, saying, “The death penalty is broken beyond repair and plainly fails to deliver justice by every reasonable measure. It is marred by cruelty, waste, ineffectiveness, discrimination and an unacceptable risk of error. … By speaking out at this crucial moment, business leaders have an opportunity to help end this inhumane and flawed practice.”

Twenty-one business leaders from a variety of industries, including technology, telecommunications, fashion, and food, urged world leaders to end the death penalty. Among the signatories are Branson, The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and former Tiffany & Co. CEO Alessandro Bogliolo.

“We stand united in our belief in a fairer and more equitable world, the rule of law, and universal human rights,” the declaration begins. “As an irreversible and extreme form of punishment, the death penalty is inhumane, and it is irreconcilable with human dignity. Its worldwide abolition is a moral imperative that all of humanity should support.” The declaration sets forth four major reasons to abolish capital punishment: racial bias in its application, the absence of any deterrent effect, the risk of executing innocent people, and the high cost of the death penalty.

Celia Ouellette, the founder and CEO of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, which organized the declaration and supports businesses in advocating for criminal justice reform, linked the effort to the global movement for racial justice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020. “This is a completely new moment in the movement,” she said. “You can create a lot of change quickly.”

The business leaders explicitly linked capital punishment to racial justice, writing, “The abolition of capital punishment is a critical step in the movement toward racial and social equality.” Ben & Jerry founders Cohen and Greenfield added in a separate statement, “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. The death penalty has a long history with oppression, and it needs to end. Now.”

Branson said he plans to work on expanding the number of signatories between the release and October 10, World Day Against the Death Penalty. “Part of our job is, is to find the time to educate them, give them the facts and win and win them over,” he said. “It needs patience. It needs education for some. But for, I say the vast majority, it’s a reasonably easy. The doors are open and I think we can get the vast majority of people on board.”