Kenya: Meta - Formerly Facebook - Denies Poor Working Conditions Claims

(file photo).
28 April 2022

American social media giant Meta, formerly Facebook- has now distanced itself from claims that its main subcontractor for content moderation in Africa, Sama, had allegedly violated a number of employee rights in its Kenyan hub.

This comes after a few weeks ago, a law firm threatened to sue Meta and Sama over the alleged unsafe and unfair work conditions dolled on its content moderators.

Nzili and Sumbi Advocates alleged that Sama had breached a number of rights including the health and privacy of its Kenyan and international staff.

The law firm demanded that both Meta and Sama adhere to Kenya's labour, privacy and health laws, including that it provides its content moderators with adequate mental health insurance and better compensation.

Additionally, the law firm demanded that the two firms recruit qualified and experienced health professionals for the content moderators.

"Facebook subcontracts most of this work to companies like Sama - a practice that keeps Facebook's profit margins high but at the cost of thousands of moderators' health - and the safety of Facebook worldwide. Sama moderators report ongoing violations, including conditions which are unsafe, degrading, and pose a risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)," the law firm stated.

A scathing article by the Times dubbed "Inside Facebook's African Sweatshop" released in February revealed that Sama allegedly fired its former employee Daniel Motaung for leading a strike back in 2019 over poor pay and work conditions.

The article detailed how Sama recruited its content moderators under the false pretext that they were taking up call centre jobs.

The story further stated that the content moderators, hired from across Africa, only learned about the nature of their jobs after signing employment contracts and relocating to Sama's hub based in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

For a lot of social media platforms, content moderators perform the brutal task of viewing and removing illegal or banned content from these sites before any of it is seen by the average user.

They sift through all social media posts to remove anything that may instigate hate misinformation and violence.

According to the Times article, the content moderators' pay in Africa is the lowest across the globe.

Among the many employment terms, moderators are forbidden from disclosing the nature of their jobs to outsiders.

The law firm representing Motaung has now threatened to go on with the plans to file a lawsuit.

"Your client's employment was terminated because of unacceptable actions taken against fellow employees that jeopardized their safety. The process leading to the termination of your client was fair, clear and well-documented; there is absolutely no basis for the allegation that your client was unfairly dismissed from employment. Similarly, there is no basis for the allegation that your client is entitled to compensation," a letter sent to Motaung's lawyer, Mercy Mutemi, by Sama's lawyers, Bowmans, said.

The law firm alleged that Sama failed to grant Motaung and his colleagues adequate psychosocial support and mental health measures, including "unplanned breaks as needed particularly after exposure to graphic content. Sama granted them thirty minutes a day with a wellness counsellor."

"Sama and Meta failed to prepare our client for the kind of job he was to do and its effects. The first video he remembers moderating was of a beheading. Up to that point, no psychological support had been offered to him in advance," the law firm said.

Meta however said it was not privy to the arrangement its subcontractor had with Moutang.

"There was, therefore, no employer/employee relationship between Meta and the Claimant (Motaung), upon which a cause of action may be premised. No action can therefore be brought against Meta for any rights and /or obligations allegedly due to owing to the Claimant with respect to his employment with Sama, as Meta is not and has never been his employer," said Anjaarwalla & Khanna LLP, the law firm representing Meta.

Following the expose, Sama denied any wrongdoing stating that it is transparent during its hiring process and has a culture that "prioritizes employee health and wellness."

"We understand that content moderation is a difficult but essential job to ensure the safety of the internet for everyone, and it's why we invest heavily in training, personal development, and wellness programs," said Sama.

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