In spring 2017, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University launched a three-year multi-disciplinary initiative to combat human trafficking in the agricultural sector.

Forced Labor is a modern form of slavery and a fundamental violation of human rights. Victims of forced labor, a type of human trafficking, can be found in factories, on farms, at construction sites and more. Through force, fraud or coercion, victims are made to work for little or no pay. Agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable because they are excluded from some labor laws, are low paid, work in remote and isolated locations, often have low levels of literacy, and may lack legal immigration status.

The objective of the Buffett-McCain Institute Initiative to Combat Modern Slavery is to test, and then replicate, a program that:

  • Ends trafficker impunity by supporting a justice system able to effectively, fairly and efficiently handling forced labor and labor exploitation cases.
  • Secures justice for victims of forced labor and severe forms of labor exploitation.
  • Prevents the crime by bringing the Fair Food Program to Texas.
  • Leverages resources and increases coordination through multi-sectoral partnerships.

The Initiative launched as a pilot in Texas, with resources initially focused in two regions: South Texas (including the Rio Grande Valley) and Northwest Texas (including the Panhandle, the South Plains and a portion of West Texas).

Guided by a victim-centered approach, the Initiative works to increase victim identification, support investigations, and increase labor trafficking prosecutions. In addition to partnerships with and training programs for law enforcement, the Initiative supports local legal service providers to ensure victim needs are prioritized.

The Initiative aims to not only address existing instances of forced labor, but also discourage all forms of labor exploitation. Consequently, the Initiative has dedicated resources to addressing root causes of labor exploitation in the agricultural sector.

Through a partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Initiative works to expand the Fair Food Program (FFP) into Texas. The FFP brings together workers, consumers, growers and retail food companies to support fair wages and humane labor standards in the agricultural industry. First launched in the tomato fields in Florida, the FFP has resulted in unprecedented reforms in this industry, including the successful elimination of forced labor in fields that federal prosecutors dubbed “ground zero for modern-day slavery” just a few years ago.

Finally, to ensure long-term success, the Initiative supports and encourages collaboration among local and federal law enforcement, prosecutors, academics and victim service providers to combine resources, build region-wide capacity and most effectively respond to cases of human trafficking.

 

Field image photo credit: Howard G. Buffett