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19 Mar 2024

Kenya : Content moderators filed a lawsuit against Meta alleging unfair termination of subcontractor's employees and discriminatory hiring conditions

In February 2019, Meta (formerly Facebook) announced the opening of Facebook's first content review centre in sub-Saharan Africa, in Nairobi, in collaboration with Sama, a Californian subcontractor.

The content moderators hired by Sama worked in difficult conditions, exposed to toxic and traumatic content, without adequate psychological support or fair remuneration.

In January 2023, Sama dismissed more than 180 content moderators without just cause or compensation. Sama then announced the closure of its content moderation centre in Nairobi.

The dismissed content moderators took legal action against Meta to challenge their unfair dismissal and seek compensation for the harm suffered in their role. The case was brought before Kenyan court in March 2023.

Ex-moderators applied for job position within Majorel, the Luxembourg-based outsourcing company that took up the Meta moderation contract in Nairobi. But despite their experience, they never heard back from Majorel. In fact, none of them who applied to jobs at Majorel, were called for interviews or received offers from Meta’s new contractor.

Based on that, 43 of Sama’s content moderators filed a lawsuit against Meta and Sama. The lawsuit also names Majorel. Lawyers alleged that the rumors ex-moderators heard are not only true, but that Majorel explicitly told its recruiters to avoid candidates from Sama. They said that the end of the Sama contract was not, as Meta and Sama said, an issue of redundancy, but a way to penalize workers for organizing and speaking up.

According to the filing, Sama never issued a redundancy notice. The suit also alleges that Majorel, in avoiding Sama employees, was engaging in discriminatory hiring practices, and that Meta instructed Majorel not to hire any former Sama employees.

In May 2023, more than 150 content moderators working for Meta, Bytedance and OpenAI formed Africa's first content moderators' union, with the support of the Communications Workers' Union of Kenya (COWU), to defend their rights and improve their working conditions.

Meta's lawyers say the company cannot be sued, arguing the Employment and Labour Relations Court has no jurisdiction to rule against an entity that isn't based in Kenya. It also says the complainants are not employed by Meta itself.

But in April 2023, a judge in Kenya ruled that Court has jurisdiction to determine the matter of alleged unlawful and unfair termination of employment, and he also upheld an interim order handed down on March 21 suspending the decision to fire the subcontractors.

In August 2023, Meta and the content moderators agree to mediation.