Memorandums of Understanding

In addition to response protocols, Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) are signed by two or more organizations and lay out the common intentions and responsibilities of the signatory organizations. Some MOUs can be legally binding contracts, but more often (particularly as used by anti-trafficking task forces) they represent a formal declaration to work together as a collaborative team and to provide the stated capacities for the agreed-upon timeframe. As an example, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC)/Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Enhanced Collaborative Model to Combat Human Trafficking grant program requires MOUs showing a commitment between the grantee agencies while receiving funding from the Department of Justice.

Defining Expectations and Commitment

Having formal MOUs among participating agencies and organizations is the first step in defining and understanding expectations. The MOU is a public statement of commitment and a guide for accountability. It also helps define fiscal responsibilities for task forces that receive funding from any source. The MOU should clearly define roles, responsibilities, and responses to human trafficking that are within the agency's or organization’s normal capacity.

It may be tempting to use the MOU to outline the perfect anti-trafficking response, but it is best to develop a realistic and achievable response based on the resources and capabilities of each organization.

When There is Resistance to Signing an MOU

Many agency leaders hesitate to sign an MOU because the formality of the document may seem to imply a level of commitment with which they are uncomfortable. Some organizations require that MOUs and other agreements be approved by a larger oversight body, such as a city council, a board of directors, or an organization’s headquarters, before they can be accepted.

When there is resistance or discomfort with signing an MOU, invite the agency executive to point out those areas of the MOU that present challenges to a successful sign-off and attempt to agree on language and conditions that meet mutual needs.

If an agency or organization is unable or unwilling to sign a formal agreement, and their cooperation with the task force is essential, determine if there are other ways to include their participation on the task force. Consider either a more general statement of commitment or an unsigned document that describes the type of involvement that is expected from their participation.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 3.1 Task Force Membership & Management.