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'A Moral Imperative': Business Leaders Demand Death Penalty Abolition Worldwide

"The tide is turning, and now it is the responsibility of business leaders to speak up and stand together on the right side of history."

Police officers gather to remove activists during an anti death penalty protest in front of the US Supreme Court January 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Death penalty abolitionists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2017. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Acknowledging the injustice, inhumanity, and ineffectiveness of capital punishment, a group of global business leaders on Thursday issued a declaration calling for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. 

"This is one of those moments where seismic change can happen, and allies from the business community are lending their voices—and their power—to the cause."
—Celia Ouellette,  RBIJ

"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."

"We can no longer stay silent on issues of inequality, and no issue is more intricately tied to the racial and socioeconomic biases that permeate justice systems than the death penalty," the statement asserts. "In many countries, ethnic minorities and the poor are still more likely to be prosecuted, sentenced to death, and ultimately executed. The abolition of capital punishment is a critical step in the movement toward racial and social equality."

The declaration continues: 

The death penalty does not make communities safer and it does not address the root causes of crime. Nor does it serve as a deterrent. Statistics show that U.S. states with the death penalty have higher murder rates than those without. This is consistent with international findings showing that countries that have abolished capital punishment experienced a decline in murder rates over time.

We can no longer afford to jeopardize the safety of our communities by perpetuating a culture of violence and revenge. We recognize the danger of executing innocent people. In the U.S. for every eight people executed, one innocent person has been exonerated. By all accounts, the true number of innocent people who continue to languish on death row—or who have been executed—is much higher. Any system with an error rate this high is broken beyond repair.

The death penalty is a wasteful and ineffective misallocation of public resources. To maintain the broken system of capital punishment, some governments divert millions of dollars every year from critical public health and safety initiatives, from infrastructure development, and from education—missing crucial opportunities to build social stability and strengthen communities.

The declaration ends on a hopeful note. "There is progress," it says, as "more than 170 U.N member states have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Half of all U.S. states have abolished the death penalty or stopped executions. The tide is turning, and now it is the responsibility of business leaders to speak up and stand together on the right side of history."

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"It is time to end this cruelty once and for all," it concludes. "Where the death penalty still exists, we urge government leaders to legally commute death sentences, to impose moratoria on executions, and to support legislative or ballot initiatives to end capital punishment for good. We commit to using our voices and our reach as business leaders to support ending the death penalty everywhere, beginning with signing this declaration."

Appearing virtually at the 2021 South by Southwest festival, British billionaire Richard Branson—one of the declaration's leaders—said that "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," the Virgin Group co-founder said. "By speaking out at this crucial moment, business leaders have an opportunity to help end this inhumane and flawed practice."

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the ice cream icons of Ben & Jerry's fame, also signed the declaration. 

"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, 
Ben & Jerry's

"Business leaders need to do more than just say Black Lives Matter," the progressive pair asserted. "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." 

Celia Ouellette, founder and CEO of the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ)—which is coordinating the campaign—called the initiative "the epitome of the work we care so much about—bringing business and movement leaders together to create an impact that is greater than the sum of their parts."

"The incredible progress made by advocates and activists over the years means the political stage is set to end the death penalty once and for all," Ouellette said in a statement. "This is one of those moments where seismic change can happen, and allies from the business community are lending their voices—and their power—to the cause."

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