Coalition of Immokalee Workers Praised during White House Forum on Human Trafficking

At a White House ceremony last week, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' anti-slavery work was called the "spark that ignited a movement."

The first-ever White House Forum to Combat Human Trafficking brought together Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State John Kerry for the release of a report by the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Tuesday.

The Fair Food Program was singled out as "one of the most successful and innovative programs" in the world today in the fight to uncover and prevent modern-day slavery, a fight President Barack Obama called "one of the great human rights causes of our time."

The report, "Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern-Day Slavery," said this about the farmworker group: "One of the most successful and innovative programs we researched is the Fair Food Program, developed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and promoted in partnerships with T’ruah (formerly Rabbis for Human Rights North America) and the International Justice Mission, among others.

"Slavery and other human rights abuses are an ongoing threat in U.S. tomato fields. Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy once called Florida’s tomato fields 'ground zero' for modern-day slavery in the United States. Over the past 15 years, seven cases of forced labor slavery have been successfully prosecuted, resulting in more than 1,000 people freed from slavery in U.S. tomato fields.

"The Fair Food program, developed by tomato pickers themselves through CIW, establishes a zero tolerance policy for slavery, child labor, and serious sexual abuse on Florida’s tomato farms."

At the event, Ambassador at Large Luis CdeBaca, director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, told a story about the CIW's first slavery investigation, US v. Miguel Flores: "[This] reflects what we've learned since the early stages of the fight. When I was assigned to my first trafficking case – before we called it trafficking – my supervisor called me into the office and said 'You know, this group, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, keeps coming in and talking about this one crewleader and we've never been able to prove anything on him, but where there's smoke there's fire.'

"And we went out and we were able to investigate that case, with the non-governmental organizations, working across inter-agency lines, working with the private sector, working with folks from every sector and harnessing their efforts to take Miguel Flores off the streets.

"So where there was smoke, there was fire, and that little spark has ignited a movement."