By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thailand is deploying GPS on fishing boats, adopting steep fines and a budget to hire 700 anti-corruption staff in an effort to combat human trafficking ahead of a U.S. deadline to show improvement, authorities said on Monday.
The U.S. State Department in June named Thailand as one of the world's worst centers for human trafficking, saying it was "not making significant efforts" and was a source, destination and transit country for forced labor.
The State Department said most victims of trafficking in Thailand were from neighboring countries and forced or defrauded into labor, with tens of thousands exploited in the commercial sex trade, on fishing boats or as domestic servants.
Thailand is due to submit a report on 2014 to the State Department by March.
Deputy Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai detailed new measures to eradicate the modern slave trade, noting that in 2014, there were 130 new human trafficking cases and 104 people convicted.
A new law passed on Friday to combat "illegal, unregistered and unreported fishing" would fine abuses by up to 30 million baht ($910,000), Don told a news conference on Monday.
As part of the law, satellite-based monitoring systems would be required for large fishing ships, which have 60 days to install the devices, said Songsak Saicheua, a foreign ministry official.
Failure to comply could be punishable by 100,000 baht and one year imprisonment, he said.
Songsak said the government had approved a special budget of 300 million baht ($9 million) for the National Anti-Corruption Commission to hire 700 personnel to improve investigations.
At the end of 2014, the government also increased the minimum age for workers on fishing vessels to 18 years from 15, required 10 hours of rest per working day, and a minimum of 30 days leave per year, officials said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Don repeated a government vow to crack down on perpetrators of human trafficking, "no matter whose face it is or what uniform they're wearing".
Thailand has registered 1.6 million previously undocumented workers as of Oct. 31.
Migrant rights advocates said the government's latest efforts were inadequate.
"This is a tally sheet exercise, with the Thai side trying to figure how many cases and how many officials the U.S. government wants prosecuted in order to give an upgrade," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division.
"Thailand's efforts this year have been a lot of talk, shuffling of assignments at government inter-agency committees, but little substantive action to effectively end trafficking."
(Reporting by Alisa Tang; Editing by Ros Russell)