Meta is facing a potential lawsuit from an ex-employee who went public about unlawful practices in the company’s outsourcing firm in Nairobi. Daniel Motaung, a former Facebook Moderator had been employed by Sama, the firm providing content moderation services for Facebook in Nairobi.
Motaung is among many employees who were fired from the company for protesting poor pay and working conditions.
His lawyers on Tuesday wrote a demand letter to Meta and Ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI) firm Sama, which is headquartered in San Francisco. Sama is the epicenter of Facebook’s content moderation operation for the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa, including conflict-ridden Ethiopia.
In an interview with The Times last year, employees revealed that Sama’s workplace culture was characterized by mental trauma, intimidation, and alleged suppression of the right to unionize.
“Here in Nairobi, Sama employees who speak at least 11 African languages between them toil day and night, working as outsourced Facebook content moderators: the emergency first responders of social media. They perform the brutal task of viewing and removing illegal or banned content from Facebook before it is seen by the average user,” An article by The Times described.
Motaung alleges that he was fired because he attempted to form a trade union with his 100 coworkers in the Nairobi office to protest what he deemed to be exploitative working conditions.
The letter highlighted that Meta and Sama had violated Kenyan and International employees’ rights to form a union.
The letter further states that Sama is dishonestly branded as an ethical company when in fact, their business practices are immoral and unlawful. Meta and Sama are both accused of breaking section 5 of Kenya’s employment act “through discriminatory treatment, including pay discrimination and sub-par psychological support compared to content moderation offices in other countries.”
Motaung further claims he was unlawfully terminated and that the company violated Kenya’s data protection act by surveilling employees’ screens during working hours.
“Content moderators like Daniel are the most important and least-discussed aspect of Facebook’s global operations. Their job is to sift through the social media posts of Facebook’s nearly three billion monthly users and remove posts that violate its rules – such as graphic violence, hate, and misinformation,” the letter stated.
Facebook subcontracts most of this work to companies like Sama. The practice, according to the demand letter, 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 PTSD. Most of the employees recounted to The Times that they were unable to obtain formal diagnoses of their illnesses due to their inability to afford access to quality mental healthcare
Motaung’s lawyers have requested that the Kenyan government revoke Sama’s license to operate as an outsourcing firm in the country. Meta and Sama have been given 21 days to adhere to the claimant’s demands in full, failure to which a civil suit will be instituted against them.