High-profile CEOs are banding together to call for an end to the death penalty

Richard Branson.
Richard Branson.
Image: jlsphoto.com/Jonathan Smith
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Eighteen founders and CEOs released a letter today calling for an international end to the death penalty, and asked fellow business leaders to join them in a campaign to abolish the practice in countries including the US and Egypt.

The signatories include Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group and leader of the CEO campaign; Ariana Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and founder and CEO of Thrive Global; and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand.

Jared Smith, co-founder of management software company Qualtrics, and Mo Ibrahim, founder of African telecommunications company Celtel, are among the other noteworthy names on the list. The campaign is being coordinated by the nonprofit Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, which supports businesses in advocating for criminal justice reform.

Calling the death penalty inhumane, the letter argues that it perpetuates inequality and racial injustice. “No issue is more intricately tied to the racial and socioeconomic biases that permeate justice systems than the death penalty,” the letter reads. “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.”

In addition to the moral and ethical problems it raises, the death penalty, the executives argue, does not deter crime and eats up public funding that would be better directed toward improving education and public health and safety.

The CEOs’ call to action is the latest indicator of business leaders’ growing willingness to speak out on political, social, and environmental issues. The conscious capitalism movement, which holds that businesses have an obligation to society as well as shareholders, was further ingrained in the aftermath of 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, which led to widespread discussions about the power companies have to bring about social change and popularized the idea that business leaders’ silence on racism is tantamount to complacency.

But while it’s noteworthy when a group of high-powered CEOs take a stand on a social issue, it’s their actions in the weeks and months that follow that are telling.

The 18 executives who joined the death-penalty opposition campaign did so in a personal capacity, and called on government officials to commute death sentences, stop executives, and support bills or ballot initiatives to get rid of the death penalty. We commit to using our voices and our reach as business leaders to support ending the death penalty everywhere,” they pledged, “beginning with signing this declaration.”

These are the executives who have signed onto the campaign so far:

Richard Branson
Founder, Virgin Group

Arianna Huffington
Founder and CEO, Thrive Global; co-founder, The Huffington Post

Alessandro Boglilio
Former CEO, Tiffany & Co.

Ben Cohen
Co-founder, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Bert Jacobs
CEO, Life is Good

François-Henri Pinault
Chairman and CEO, Kering

Guilherme Leal
Co-founder and co-chair Natura & Co.; co-founder, Instituto Ethos

Helene Gayle
President & CEO, The Chicago Community Trust; former president and CEO, CARE USA; director, The Coca Cola Company; director, Palo Alto Networks; director, Brookings Institution; director, New America

Jared Smith
Co-founder, Qualtrics

Jean Oelwang
President and founding CEO, Virgin Unite; former Co-CEO, Virgin Mobile Australia

Jerry Greenfield
Co-founder, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

Martha Lane Fox
Chair, WeTransfer; director, Twitter; director, Chanel; chancellor, Open University

Merck Mercuriadis
Founder and CEO, Hipgnosis Songs Fund

Mike Novogratz 
Founder and CEO, Galaxy Investment Partners

Mo Ibrahim
Founder, Mobile Systems International; founder, Celtel; founding chairman, Satya Capital Limited; founder and chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Nicolas Debray
President, the Americas, The Body Shop

Robert F. Smith
Founder, chairman & CEO, Vista Equity Partners

Strive Masiyiwa
Founder and executive chairman, Econet Group