Facebook is no stranger to lawsuits and this time the tech giant is being sued in Kenya over alleged human trafficking and union-busting.
The petition filed against Meta’s local outsourcing company Sama, alleges that workers moderating Facebook posts in Kenya have been subjected to irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, union-busting, and violations of their privacy and dignity.
Motaung, recruited in 2019 from South Africa to work for Sama in Nairobi, says he was not given details about the nature of the work reviewing Facebook posts before his arrival.
The first video Motaung remembers moderating was a beheading. The disturbing content piled up, but Motaung says his pay and mental health support were inadequate.
‘I have been diagnosed with severe PTSD,’ Motaung told Reuters. ‘I am living…a horror movie,’
Motaung’s lawyers said that Meta and Sama created a dangerous and degrading environment where workers were not given the same protections as employees in other countries.
‘We found a lot of Africans were forced into force labor situations and human trafficking. When you leave your country for a job that you didn’t apply for, that amounts to human trafficking,’ said Mercy Mutemi, Motaung’s lawyer.
‘We take our responsibility to the people who review content for Meta seriously and require our partners to provide industry-leading pay, benefits and support. We also encourage content reviewers to raise issues when they become aware of them and regularly conduct independent audits to ensure our partners are meeting the high standards we expect of them,’ a Meta Spokesperson told Metro.co.uk.
The alleged unsafe working conditions at Sama’s content moderation facility in Nairobi, Kenya came to light in February in a Time magazine report.
The article featured Motaung who alleged that Sama wrongfully terminated him in 2019 while he was attempting to start a union.
Sama categorically denied all allegations from the investigation in a post outlining how it treated its employees fairly.
‘We take this litigation seriously, but the allegations against Sama are both disappointing and inaccurate,’ a spokesperson for Sama told Metro.co.uk.
Sama also said that they provided all members of their workforce with a ‘competitive wage, benefits, upward mobility, and a robust mental health and wellness program’.
Motaung’s lawsuit seeks financial compensation, an order that outsourced moderators have the same health care and pay scale as Meta employees, that unionization rights be protected, and an independent human rights audit of the office.
The Kenyan lawsuit’s specific requests for action are wide-ranging than those sought in previous cases and could reverberate beyond Kenya.
‘This could have ripple effects. Facebook is going to have to reveal a lot about how they run their moderation operation,’ said Odanga Madung, a fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, a US-based global nonprofit dedicated to internet rights.
Globally, thousands of moderators review social media posts that could depict violence, nudity, racism or other offensive content. Many work for third party contractors rather than tech companies.
Meta has already faced scrutiny over content moderators’ working conditions.
Last year, a California judge approved an $85 million settlement between Facebook and more than 10,000 content moderators who had accused the company of failing to protect them from psychological injuries resulting from their exposure to graphic and violent imagery.
Facebook did not admit wrongdoing in the California case but agreed to take measures to provide its content moderators, who are employed by third-party vendors, with safer work environments.