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Portman Urges Obama Administration to Address Human Trafficking in the Fishing Industry


November 18, 2015 - 11:42 AM


Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Co-Chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, urged the Administration to address the link between illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report,  54 countries either have trafficking in their fishing industries, are transit countries for trafficking forced labor on fishing vessels in other jurisdictions, or have a high risk of trafficking in their fishing industries.

“As co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, we are concerned about the link between illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and human trafficking in the seafood supply chain,” the senators wrote. “As a human rights champion, the U.S. can and should endeavor to provide adequate safeguards to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable populations from human trafficking.”

“Oceana applauds the leadership of Senators Portman and Blumenthal and echo their concerns,” said Lora Snyder, Campaign Director of Oceana. “Transparency and traceability in the seafood supply chain not only are beneficial in the fight against pirate fishing and seafood fraud, but also to protect the welfare of seafood workers from the fishing boats to the processing plants and factories far off our shores. As the Task Force develops new rules for traceability, it is critical that they are comprehensive, applying to all seafood sold in the U.S. and extending through the full supply chain.”

Today’s letter follows up on Portman and Blumenthal’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The senators recently reintroduced the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act to increase the country’s ability to monitor and effectively combat sex and human trafficking across the globe.

Earlier this year, three of Portman’s bills to combat human trafficking were signed into law.

Text of the letter can be found below.




Dear Mr. President,

As co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, we are concerned about the link between illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing and human trafficking in the seafood supply chain. The U.S. State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report identified 54 countries that either have trafficking in their fishing industries, are transit countries for trafficking forced labor on fishing vessels in other jurisdictions, or have a high risk of trafficking in their fishing industries. As a result we urge the Administration to ensure that the Presidential Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud addresses human trafficking within the seafood supply chain by issuing a strong rule that will increase transparency and traceability for seafood products sold in the U.S.

First, we request that the Administration’s final rule require catch documentation that includes verifiable information requirements and full chain traceability for seafood products sold in the U.S. The U.S. will not be able to tackle the immense problems associated with IUU fishing without including specific benchmarks and timelines for expanding the documentation requirements to all seafood products and extending traceability requirements throughout the full supply chain in the final rule. Likewise, catch documentation must include information about workers onboard fishing vessels to combat abuse and trafficking, as detailed by The New York Times in its “The Outlaw Ocean” series.

Second, we encourage the Administration’s final rule to focus on enforcement requirements. The lack of enforcement on the high seas and an increase in transshipment through mother ships allow for increased human trafficking on vessels. As marine ecosystems collapse and the pressure for inexpensive seafood continues, fishing vessels are forced to travel longer distances to find fish. Regular returns to shore make longer distance hauls unprofitable, consequently trapping laborers on fishing vessels for weeks, even years, at a time. Providing penalties would create greater accountability for operators of IUU fishing vessels, consequently deterring these operators from engaging in egregious human trafficking practices.

Third, we implore the Administration to ensure the final rule applies to all seafood, not just a small number of species. The proposed “at risk” species approach currently favored by the Administration will only target “seafood products of particular concern because the species at issue are subject to significant seafood fraud or because they are at significant risk of being caught by IUU fishing.” Focusing on a limited number of species is not likely to solve the problem because we fear it will redirect bad actors engaging in human trafficking to other species outside of those deemed to be “at risk.”

We look forward to working with you to ensure these policies are implemented and encourage you to continue working with the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. As a human rights champion, the U.S. can and should endeavor to provide adequate safeguards to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable populations from human trafficking.

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