Bay Area chefs battle human trafficking

March 19, 2008 7:36:10 PM PDT
From forced labor to child prostitution, human trafficking is an issue some prominent chefs in the Bay Area are trying to tackle. In years past, they've come together to raise money for tsunami victims and those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Now they're using their culinary talents to draw attention to a global problem.

The co-owner and chef of a well-known Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco and his fellow chefs will use their talent and their clout to draw attention to the growing worldwide problem of human trafficking, particularly child trafficking for prostitution.

Chef Khai Duong, a father of two, was disturbed by news reports about child sex slaves.

"I have a daughter, eight years old. When I saw the TV, I reflected on my daughter. I say what happened, so we have to do something. That's why I want to do something," says Chef Khai.

Chef Khai belongs to the Asian Chefs Association. Their charitable arm called Chefs Without Borders fundraiser, will debut clips from a powerful new movie called "Holly" about child trafficking in Asian countries.

Some of the scenes will churn your stomach and haunt you. It's difficult for most of us to imagine such young little girls in this horrifying situation. The film's producer says some of the scenes were shot in real brothels overseas.

"Anyone who works, or who wants to work, can actually be put into a slavery type situation," says Ivy Lee, .a lawyer with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. It offers a number of services to victims who are able to get away from their captors.

"We're able to stabilize their immigration status, advocate for them in the criminal justice system, even seek civil damages for them through the civil justice system, and also take care of long term, as well as short term and emergency needs, such as shelter, medical care, clothing," says Ivy.

A University of California study found that California is a top destination state for human traffickers.

It's not easy to escape because the victims are isolated and become trapped.

"Threats to their physical well-being, threats to their family members and loved ones in their home country, all of those things are used to kind of compel them to continue to coerce them into staying in that forced labor situation," says Ivy.

The International Labor Organization estimates that human traffickers move between 700,000 and two million women and children across international boundaries every year, mainly for the purpose of serving the sex trade.

Not only that, it's estimated that nearly two million men, women, and children are bought and sold for forced labor in businesses ranging from forced prostitution, domestic household services, sweatshops, construction labor, motel cleaning services, or restaurants and hotels.

Chefs Without Borders says raising awareness about human trafficking is the first step, but the second step has to be finding a variety of ways to stop it and help those who are already victims.

So, Chefs Without Borders will donate the proceeds from their event to a non-profit organization called Give2Asia.

"We work in the area of anti-human trafficking across Asia," says Birger Stamperdahl of Give2Asia.

Give2Asia will give that money to established programs already in place in Vietnam, for example, to help the victims recover.

Chefs Without Borders also wants to create a culinary school in Vietnam along the poverty stricken Mekong Delta area, using their own members from the San Francisco area as teachers.

"What they want to do is create programs that train people in these rural communities for skills like cooking that will give them a great opportunity in the future to earn a living. I think we're looking at student numbers in the hundreds, and giving them an opportunity to go through a two-year program for example, and come out on the other side with a job lined up," says Stamperdahl.

Chef Khai just returned from Vietnam where he went to find a location for the proposed culinary school.

"I pray everyday. So, hopefully we do something right for them. So, we cannot rescue them all, we cannot help them all, at least in our mind, in our hearts, at least we help one at a time. What we can do, we will do," says Chef Khai.

The event is Friday, March 22nd at the San Francisco Hilton, from 6:30pm to 10pm. Twenty-five wineries and 25 restaurants will participate. There will also be a Vietnamese fashion show. Don Sanchez and Cheryl Jennings are the emcees.


Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach