Born in Platì, he is the head of the Barbaro 'ndrina. He was known as the king of kidnapping in the 1980s. He became a member of La Provincia, a provincial commission of the 'Ndrangheta formed at the end of the Second 'Ndrangheta war in September 1991, to avoid further internal conflicts.
In the 1950s the clan was involved in a bloody feud with the Mammoliti 'ndrina from Castellace in the municipality of Oppido Mamertina. In the end the Mammoliti clan prevailed and the Barbaros moved back to Platì.
Platì has been called the "cradle of kidnapping" and it is suspected that kidnap victims were held within a complex network of underground tunnels. The money extorted with kidnappings was invested in drug trafficking and construction in northern Italy, in particularly around Buccinasco, near Milan. The clan participated in a cartel of 'Ndrangheta families involved in cocaine trafficking with the Mafia family of Mariano Agate.
He was arrested on January 5, 1989. Over the years, Francesco’s son Giuseppe Barbaro took over the leadership of the clan from his aging father. Giuseppe was included in the list of most wanted fugitives in Italy until his arrest on December 10, 2001. Another son of Francesco, Rocco Barbaro, was arrested on February 8, 2003.