A former content moderator, Daniel Motaung has sued Facebook and data training firm Samasource Kenya EPZ Limited for alleged human trafficking, forced labour and contravention of constitutional and human rights.
In a lawsuit filed by Nzili & Sumbi Advocates, the petitioner represents all current and former workers at Facebook’s main content moderation hub in Africa based in Nairobi, which covers the Eastern and Southern Africa regions.
He has listed Sema as the first respondent, accusing the firm of recruiting young and vulnerable youth from Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Africa, and Nambia under false pretenses, failing to disclose to applicants that they are intended to work as Facebook Content Moderators.
Motaung is seeking collective compensation and reparation for damages to more than 240 personnel.
Further, the South African national beseeches the Kenyan Court to order Facebook and Sama to reform dangerous and degrading working conditions, return unlawfully withheld wages to its employees and allow them to form a union.
With 10 government and non-governmental agencies included in the petition as interested parties, the lawsuit calls upon Kenya’s government to take a closer look at the labour and migration practices of Facebook and its outsourcing companies, setting a precedence for other multinational companies operating in Africa’s Silicon Savannah.
The petitioner compels the Labour Court to end a culture of exploitation that has a lasting impact on young African workers, most of whom are currently battling mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“When I first applied to the advert for this job, I was straight out of university and on a mission to lift myself and my family out of poverty,” Motaung claims, adding that his physical and mental health had been adversely affected by the violence he witnessed as Facebook Content Moderator for only six months.
He alleges that job applicants were neither informed that they would be working as Facebook Content Moderators nor about the true nature of the graphic content they would be moderating for the Meta-owned platform.
“At all material times between 2019 to date, the 1st Respondent has issued various calls for applications for content moderators with varying descriptions for the vacancy designed to trick unsuspecting applicants into unknowingly becoming Facebook Content Moderators,” the petition claims
Zulu Speaking Call Centre Agents (Based in Kenya)’ and Agent at Samasource are some of many cited examples of advertisements placed on various job application platforms, and on Sama’s website as part of an underhanded recruitment process.
The respondents are alleged to only disclose specifics of the job to successful applicants once they have signed an employment contract with a strict nondisclosure agreement, and do not allow their employees to retain copies of either document.
According to the petitioner, the majority of the personnel at the Nairobi hub who are migrants find themselves trapped in a traumatizing job far away from home, without appropriate training or the requisite health and safety measures.
A medical cover with a limit of Sh50,000 for out-patient care and Sh500,000 for in-patient care and ‘wellness’ sessions is all that is provided for the Content Moderators, whom the petition refers to as the “critical front-line workers of social media, who protect billions of people who rely on Facebook every day for connection and news”
The Petition also alleges failure to pay overtime, unequal pay for equal work, irregular remuneration with unlawful deductions, double taxation, and wrongful termination by Sama.
“By manipulating young people who are just trying to support themselves and their families into modern slavery, Facebook and Sama have revealed their colonialist mindset,’’ the petitioner submits.
He further claims that Meta and Sama broke Kenyan law by targeting him and his colleagues with threats, intimidation and eventually termination for forming a union they named ‘The Alliance’.
He, therefore, wants an order of permanent injunction restraining the respondents from interfering with content moderators’ rights to freedom of expression, their right to freedom of association and their right to form, join and participate in a trade union.
Additionally, the petitioner wants an order to each respondent to prominently exhibit in the 1st respondent’s Nairobi office, and on Facebook’s intranet Workplace, a notice affirming that Facebook content moderators have the right to speak out about working conditions and to form a union, and that neither Facebook nor any outsourcer will interfere with these rights.
He prays for financial penalties to each former and existing content moderator employed in Kenya for the violation of their constitutional rights and to cater for lifetime treatment for any mental health problems that may have developed as a result of being content moderators.
Finally, he wants Sama to account for and pay back all unlawful deductions made from its employees’ salaries and that all current and former employees be provided with their payslips from the date of employment to the date of termination of employment or to date.
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