Benetton Produces "We, On Death Row"

By: Paul D'Amato

A lot of good material has been published in the last several years exposing the injustices of the death penalty.

But a double take is in order when Benetton, one of Italy's leading clothes-makers, turns its advertising machine against capital punishment. In January, Benetton produced a 100-page glossy magazine insert containing pictures and interviews with 25 death row inmates from around the U.S.

Entitled "We, On Death Row," the insert includes an interview with Illinois death row inmate Leroy Orange, one of the Death Row Ten convicted on the basis of a confession he gave after being tortured in Chicago's Area 2 police station under the direction of Commander Jon Burge. Leroy confessed to a murder after police placed a plastic bag over his head and applied electric shocks to his testicles.

Burge was thrown off the force in 1993 for directing the torture of scores of people in custody. But that hasn't yet helped Leroy and others convicted on false confessions.

Benetton is known for provocative, socially conscious advertising. Its chief creative director, Oliviero Toscani, said that he intends the supplement to encourage discussion about the human costs of executing criminals. "We will look back to this kind of justice one day, and we will consider ourselves very primitive," he said.

The Benetton ad reflects in part just how unpopular the death penalty is in Italy and Europe. And given the recent California poll showing a shift from 3 to 1 in favor of capital punishment to a 50-50 split, perhaps Benetton's campaign can be seen as a sign that at least one advertiser believes the tide of public opinion has shifted enough to speak out against the death penalty and still sell clothes.

We look forward to Benetton's future ad campaign against sweatshops!