Meta, Facebook’s parent company seems to be in a legal tussle in East Africa.
A Kenyan court on Monday denied Meta’s plea to be removed as a defendant in a lawsuit filed against it and Sama, its key subcontractor for content moderation in Africa, last year. Both are accused of exploitation and labor law violations.
Meta had attempted to disassociate itself from the matter, arguing that it is a foreign firm doing business in Kenya and that it had contracts with Sama but does not operate in Kenya. However, a judgment issued today by Kenya’s employment and labor relations court judge Jacob Kariuki concluded that Meta will remain a party in the dispute.
“At this stage, the names of the second and third respondents [Meta Platforms Inc and Meta Platforms Ireland Ltd] shall not be struck out,” the judge remarked during the judgment today. “The notice of motion is not permitted.”
Even though Meta is not incorporated in Kenya, it appears that several characteristics of how it operates in the country make it accountable anyway. The whole judgment is expected to be released today or tomorrow.
The court is expected to issue additional instructions in the case early next month.
Daniel Motaung, a South African national, is suing Meta and Sama in Kenya, alleging forced labour, exploitation, human trafficking, unfair labor relations, union busting, and failing to provide “adequate” mental health and psychosocial care.
Motaung was allegedly fired for planning a strike in 2019 and attempting to unionize Sama’s staff.
After the action was filed, Meta sought that it be dismissed, noting the fact that it was not established in the East African country and that Motaung was not its employee, but Sama’s.
“The judgment is both historic and globally significant,” Amnesty International Kenya executive director Irungu Houghton said of the ruling. This is the first time Meta Platforms Inc. will be carefully scrutinized by a court of law in the global south.
“Amnesty International Kenya is happy with the verdict and its ramifications for additional claims against Meta Platform Inc currently before Kenya’s courts. Social media platforms have significant effects on people’s lives and communities. They must be more accountable,” he said.
Sama’s moderators remove content that encourages hate, misinformation, and violence from Meta’s platforms, which include Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. OpenAI, which has contracted with Sama for workers in Kenya to help identify toxic and violent content in the creation of its ChatGPT generative AI chatbot, is another of Sama’s customers.
Sama forced content moderators into unfair labour practices and failed to provide necessary mental health care, according to documents filed last year by the law firm representing Motaung, Nzuli, and Nsumbi advocates.
It also claimed that Sama created a “toxic work environment” by prohibiting moderators from discussing the nature of their job and their experiences with third parties, including Meta’s employees.
The lawyers also claimed that Sama used a “deceptive recruitment process” by posting job openings that did not specify the nature of the work, and that Meta and Sama “subjected current and former content moderators to forced labour and human trafficking for labour.”
The law firm also alleged that Sama’s employees’ productivity was tracked using Meta’s software to measure employee screen use and movement during work hours.
Motaung is requesting monetary compensation for himself and the other moderators. Among other things, he wants Sama and Meta to be forced to stop union-bashing and give mental health support.
To make matters worse, Sama announced in January that it will close its content moderation hub in Kenya, citing the need to consolidate operations.