(Bloomberg) -- A coalition of corporate chiefs seeking to abolish capital punishment in the U.S. and elsewhere has more than tripled in size since May.
The Business Leaders’ Declaration Against the Death Penalty, led by billionaire Richard Branson, now has more than 150 members. Among new signatories are Svein Tore Holsether, head of chemical group Yara International ASA, Miles Dally, chief executive officer at South Africa’s RCL Foods Ltd., and Jon Wright, founder of Coca-Cola Co.-owned Innocent Drinks.
The movement is gaining momentum as companies become more inclined to weigh in on issues they used to avoid, especially when they are aligned with brand values. The death-penalty debate in the U.S. is linked to racial justice because of conviction disparities, while the campaign also highlights the extra burden on taxpayers stemming from legal costs.
Virgin Group founder Branson, who first engaged with the issue when seeking to save two Australians executed for drug smuggling in Indonesia in 2015, says he’s opposed to capital punishment in principle but the risk of killing the wrong person is a primary concern.
“If you lock people up for life who have committed heinous crimes, that’s fine, at least they have a chance to prove their innocence and be released,” he said in an interview. Branson personally recruited a number of people to the campaign, including Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, AirAsia Group Bhd.’s Tony Fernandes and Lava Records founder Jason Flom.
Capital punishment has recently been abolished in Sierra Leone, Malawi and Kazakhstan, while the Biden administration has imposed a moratorium on U.S. federal executions and death sentences for most crimes. However, the vast majority of U.S. executions are carried out by 27 states that still permit them.
The corporate leaders campaign is a global one but the U.S. stands out among democracies in retaining capital punishment, Branson said. Other countries with the death penalty, including North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, are “not the best bedfellows,” he said.
Branson’s companies employ thousands of people in the U.S. and most of his new ventures are based there, including satellite launcher Virgin Orbit LLC and space tourism firm Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. This qualifies him as able to lobby for policy changes, he said.
Organized by the U.K.-based Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, the campaign debuted in March. Other supporters include Unilever Plc CEO Alan Jope, Bayer AG chief Werner Baumann, Salesforce.com Inc. head Marc Benioff and Galaxy Digital’s Michael Novogratz.
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