An environmental campaigner has set up a recruitment firm to supply seasonal workers for UK horticulture from climate affected countries in South-East Asia.

Naseem Talukdar, from Fishponds, Bristol, who also founded charity Projects Against Plastic (PAP), set up Regency Ltd due to labour shortages in farms across the country.

And hundreds have signed up to the scheme from countries such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka – boosting productivity and produce delivered to food outlets in the UK.

Naseem, a second-generation Bangladeshi who helped launch a Plastic Free Ramadan campaign to reduce single-use plastic while breaking fast, said both parties benefited.

He said: “The farming industry in the UK benefits from employees with an agriculture-rich background, while the workers can earn a good wage to reinvest in their family and community.”

Prize-winning pickers

Several Bangladeshi labourers recruited through Regency have been named among the top ten strawberry pickers at one farm in the South-West – leading the owners to increase their intake of labourers from Bangladesh by tenfold.

Naseem, who is also director for social responsibility and sustainability for UK Curry Connect (UKCC), a campaign group to raise awareness of skills shortages in the Asian catering industry, believes it is about finding the right people for the right roles.

He said: “Bangladeshi workers are used to working on the ground, such as in the rice fields, which requires flexibility. They have the skills and experience for fruit picking.”

Pay it forward

Naseem’s forefathers came to the UK for work opportunities and in turn contributed to its economy and society.

His grandfather, who came from a small village in Bangladesh, served with the British Navy during World War II.  And his parents were restauranteurs, who carried out charity and community work.

Naseem said: “I’ve seen how such opportunities can be beneficial all-round. I am indebted to those who came before me and would like to help others pursue a better life where possible.

“Workers can earn a good wage in the UK, allowing them to reinvest in their community back home, provide for their families and support their children’s education.”

Climate displacement

More than 30 million people were displaced internally by weather-related disasters during 2022, according to the international non-governmental organisation Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Phil Cole is senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of the West of England (UWE), with expertise in climate migration.

His book, Global Displacement in the Twenty-first Century, draws attention to those displaced due to environmental reasons.

He said: “These is little doubt that the challenge of climate displacement is one that will grow to dominate global politics in the future, and perhaps should be dominating it now.”

He believes the number of those displaced may be higher if slow-onset disasters, such as rising sea levels and salinization, which is the increase of salt concentration in soil and is among the most critical threats to agriculture and food security, are also factored in.

He said: “We know climate displacement is not a problem that lies in the future – it is already with us and has been impacting on millions of people for many years.”

Bangladesh has experienced more than 185 adverse weather events over the past 20 years. Seventy-five percent of the country is technically submerged.

Naseem, a UWE IT graduate who has won countless awards for his charity work, said: “We work with those affected by natural disasters, which impacts on their health and livelihoods.

“We are looking at holistic approaches to sustainability – from using plastic-free products to reducing waste to finding more sustainable agricultural methods.”

‘Climate refugee’

‘Climate refugees’ are people who must leave their homes and communities because of the effects of climate change and global warming.

But the UNHCR has warned against the term – concerned it could undermine the protection in place for political refugees.

There is currently some legal protection for those displaced by climate change where they are exposed to life-threatening risks or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

But some human rights organisations believe the concept of refugee would help give the issue more urgency and provide more help for those displaced.

Professor Cole, who has written extensively on international migration and human rights, said: “For now they [refugees] are the focus of political attention in the sense of being seen as a threat to security and stability.

“Perhaps the concept of the climate refugee can change that focus to one of human rights and assistance for the displaced.”

Ethical practice

Regency’s mission is to ‘create an environment where every job seeker’s dreams are realised without fear of exploitation or extortion’.

It does not charge workers recruitment fees and is licensed by the GLAA (Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority).

It is also aligned with several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has created an ethical charter to ensure workers’ rights are protected.

Naseem said: “Sadly, there are many cases of unscrupulous third parties taking advantage of vulnerable people. This includes charging fees and mistreating workers.

“We deal with workers directly and are committed to being fair and transparent. We want to build a future where ethical recruitment practices flourish and the cycle of abuse is broken.”

Regency has a 100 per cent rate of workers returning home after their seasonal work is completed.

Naseem said: “I believe it’s a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship between the recruiters, farm owners and workers, with incentives to return the following year.”

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