Richard Branson is leading a campaign to end the death penalty, along with other key business figures. The Virgin Group founder said there is an urgent need to abolish the practice.

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Richard Branson is leading a campaign to end the death penalty, along with other key business figures. The Virgin Group founder said there is an urgent need to abolish the practice.
Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson, is spearheading the campaign.AP
  • Sir Richard Branson spoke to Insider about his ongoing campaign to eradicate capital punishment.
  • The Virgin Group founder called the practice "barbaric" and "inhumane."
  • He has teamed up with several other business leaders to help spread the message.

Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has joined forces with other business leaders to launch a campaign to abolish capital punishment in the US and other countries.

The 70-year-old billionaire announced the Business Leaders Against the Death Penalty Declaration in a virtual SXSW event in Austin, Texas, last month.

The declaration was coordinated by the UK-based organization, Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, and has gained 21 signatories. They include Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry Ice cream, Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, Helene Gayle, a director at the Coca-Cola Company, and telecom tycoon, Dr. Mo Ibrahim.

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The push to end the death penalty comes amid a global focus on racial and economic justice, exemplified by the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.

In an interview with Insider, Branson described the death penalty as "barbaric" and "inhumane." He explained his involvement in several cases throughout the years where innocent people were sent to death row, in the US and elsewhere. This led him to realize capital punishment is arbitrary and flawed, he said.

Branson gave an example of a case he took up, which involved Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who spent 28 years on Alabama's death row before being exonerated in 2015. "He was framed for a double murder he didn't commit, only because the police and prosecutors needed a Black man to convict," Branson said.

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For every eight people executed in the US, one person is freed from death row - often after decades, as was the case with Hinton, Branson added.

This case, among others, highlighted another problem for Branson - that the death penalty is also a symbol of oppression, as well as racial and social inequality.

"Look at people on death row. In most US cases, it's people of colour and the poor that are sent to death row," he said. "Some in the US have called it a 'direct descendant of lynching', and I'd say there is much evidence of that. In some countries, it's become a tool of political control and oppression," Branson said.

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Branson believes it is even more crucial to end capital punishment, given it is a wasteful and ineffective misallocation of public funds. Now more than ever, governments must be responsible with public finances given the hard hit on countries' economies due to the pandemic, he said. "Public funding could be spent on schools, healthcare, infrastructure instead," he added.

The involvement of so many notable business leaders in the campaign demonstrates an increasing willingness to speak up on issues of inequality, the danger of executing innocent people, and the need for fiscal responsibility.

"We have to ask ourselves: does the death penalty serve a real purpose for us as caring human beings?" Gayle said in a statement. She noted how it felt even more urgent to focus attention on preventable deaths in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its terrible loss of life.

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Cohen and Greenfield wanted to ensure they played their part, too. They told Insider: "We have some of the world's loudest voices - and we have a responsibility to use them to fight injustice wherever we see it."

Businesses need to do more than just say Black Lives Matter, they added: "We need to walk our talk and help tear down symbols of structural racism."

Jason Flom, chief executive of multimedia company Lava Media, is also involved with the campaign. When asked about the main objectives he hoped to achieve, he told Insider: "Goals include changing hearts and minds in the general public, as well as educating the next generation of prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and prospective jurors."

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There are 56 countries that still retain death-penalty laws as of 2019, according to Amnesty International. Since 2013, 33 countries have carried out at least one execution, the BBC reported. More than 170 UN member states, out of 194, have abolished capital punishment in law or declared a moratorium.

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