Meta & Sama lawsuit (re poor working conditions & human trafficking, Kenya)
In 2022, Daniel Motaung, an ex-content moderator from South Africa hired by Sama, Meta (formerly Facebook)’s main subcontractor for content moderation in Africa, filed suit against both companies in Kenya. He alleged human trafficking and unreasonable working conditions including irregular pay, inadequate mental health support, union busting, and violations of workers’ privacy and dignity. Sama denied the allegations while Meta claimed that it was not responsible for Mr Motaung’s working conditions since he was not its employee. The case is ongoing.
Daniel Motaung was recruited in 2019 from South Africa to work for Sama in Nairobi, Kenya. He was looking for a job to support his family after University and did not know that content moderation could harm his mental health. Legal filings claim that Sama’s job advertisements for the moderation work were misleading and used a variety of terms such as “call centre agents” to describe the roles; therefore failing to inform applicants that they would be working as Facebook content moderators and warn them that they would view disturbing content.
Motaung was then diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, anxiety, a relapse in his epilepsy and vivid flashbacks and nightmares from moderating graphic content.
Union rights being enshrined in the Kenyan constitution, Motaung attempted to form a trade union but was fired soon after. Sama has said that Motaung was fired for the legitimate reason of bullying and coercing his colleagues and accused him of taking action that would put the relationship between the company and Meta at “great risk”.
The lawsuit alleges that Sama and Meta have violated Kenyan constitutional protections to freedom of association, freedom of expression, dignity, privacy, fair remuneration, and reasonable working conditions.
The lawsuit argues that Sama and Meta engaged in forced labour by placing “misleading job ads” designed to trick applicants into applying for content moderator jobs, as there was no warning about the nature of the job. Additionally, it claims that Sama brought workers, who were often disadvantaged, in from Kenya and other parts of Africa, allegedly under false pretenses, which amounted to human trafficking.
Sama spokesperson said that the company takes the litigation seriously but called the allegations “both inaccurate and disappointing”. Sama’s late founder Leila Janah attempted to justify the levels of pay in the region, saying that paying people substantially more than that would “distort local labor markets” and “throw everything off”.
Meta seeks to have its name struck from the case, its lawyers saying that “no action can be brought against Meta for any rights and/or obligations allegedly due and owing to the Claimant with respect to his employment with Sama, as Meta was not and has never been his employer”. The company has previously said that it takes its responsibilities to content reviewers seriously.
Motaung’s lawyers said their client would argue in response that Sama is an “agent” of Meta because Sama employees use Facebook’s own internal systems and work in close cooperation with its staff. The productivity of Sama’s employees is also being tracked using Meta’s software – to measure employee screen time and movement during work hours.
On 10 May 2022, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Nairobi’s employment and labour relations court alleging that poor working conditions for contracted content moderators violate the Kenyan constitution. The lawsuit seeks financial compensation on behalf of current and former Sama employees, an order that outsourced moderators have the same health care and pay scale as Meta employees, that unionisation rights be protected, and an independent human rights audit of Sama’s Nairobi office.
In June 2022, lawyers for Meta asked the court to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds. They argued that the company cannot be tried in Kenya since it is not registered there.
In February 2023, the Employment and Labour Relations Court declined to dismiss the case against Meta on jurisdictional grounds. The court instead ruled that Meta could be sued in Kenya. Meta appealed the decision later that month.
Meta considered primary employeer of content moderators and violating dismissal laws, TechReport, 3 Jun 2023
Meta appeals Kenyan court's decision it can be sued in Kenya, Reuters, 21 Feb 2023
Facebook parent firm fails to stop court case in Kenya, Business Daily Africa, 6 Feb 2023
New Hearing Set in Facebook Whistleblower Case Over Kenyan Moderator 'Exploitation', Gizmodo, 22 Sep 2022
Meta being sued by ex-Facebook content moderator, BBC News, 12 May 2022
Facebook Parent Meta Sued in Kenya by Former Content Moderator, Queenie Wong, Cnet, 10 May 2022
Meta sued in Kenya over claims of exploitation and union busting, Annie Njanja, Techcrunch, 10 May 2022
Facebook Faces New Lawsuit Alleging Human Trafficking and Union-Busting in Kenya, Billy Perrigo, Time, 11 May 2022
Inside Facebook's African Sweatshop, Billy Perrigo, Time, 14 Feb 2022
Facebook parent firm fails to stop court case in Kenya, Sam Kiplagat, Business Daily Africa, 6 Feb 2023
What TIME got wrong, 16 Feb 2022
Foxglove (NGO supporting the plaintiff)