Content moderators working for Sama, Meta’s content review sub-contractor in Africa, picketed at the company’s headquarters in Kenya demanding April salary while urging the company to adhere to court orders that prohibited mass layoffs. Sama dropped Meta’s contract and content review services in March, resulting in the layoffs of 260 people, including moderators. The moderators sued Sama for alleged unlawful layoffs. The protests highlight the challenges of labor practices in the tech industry, particularly for content moderators who are often exploited and subjected to harsh working conditions.
Sama, Meta’s content review sub-contractor in Africa, has been at the center of a recent protest by content moderators who picketed at the company’s headquarters in Kenya, demanding their April salary and urging the company to adhere to court orders prohibiting mass layoffs. The moderators sued Sama for allegedly laying them off unlawfully after it wound down its content review arm in March, and Meta’s new partner in Africa, Majorel, for blacklisting on instruction by Meta. The court issued a temporary injunction on March 21 that barred Sama from implementing any form of redundancy, and Meta from engaging Majorel, which was also instructed to refrain from blacklisting the moderators. Sama was directed to continue reviewing the content on Meta’s platforms and to be its sole provider in Africa pending the determination of the case.
However, Sama sent the moderators on compulsory leave in April, stating that it had no work for them as its contract with Meta had expired. Sama’s VP of global service delivery, Annpeace Alwala, had asked the court to set aside the temporary injunction, stating that keeping the content moderators came “with a serious cost implication.” Alwala had outlined that it would cost about $90,000 monthly to keep the moderators and a further $135,000 to process their work permits and security bond.
The moderators filed the suit alleging that Sama failed to issue redundancy notices as required by Kenyan law. The suit also claimed, among other issues, that the moderators were not issued with a 30-day termination notice, and that their terminal dues were pegged on their signing of non-disclosure documents. Sama claims it observed Kenyan law.
Sama dropped Meta’s contract and content review services, laying off 260 people in the process, to concentrate on labeling work (computer vision data annotation), following the heat from a 2022 lawsuit in Kenya by its former content moderator, Daniel Motaung. Motaung had accused Sama and Meta of forced labor and human trafficking, unfair labor relations, union busting, and failure to provide “adequate” mental health and psychosocial support. He was allegedly laid off for organizing a 2019 strike and trying to unionize Sama’s employees. Sama and Majorel moderators earlier this week voted to form a union.
The protest by content moderators highlights the contentious issue of labor practices in the tech industry, where workers, particularly content moderators, have often been exploited and subjected to harsh working conditions. The case in Kenya is not unique, as similar cases have been reported in other parts of the world, including the US, where content moderators for Facebook filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging that the company failed to provide a safe work environment and exposed them to disturbing content that led to psychological trauma.
The issue of content moderation has become increasingly important in recent years, as social media platforms face pressure to curb the spread of harmful content, including hate speech, fake news, and terrorist propaganda. Content moderators play a critical role in this process, reviewing and removing content that violates platform policies. However, the job can be emotionally draining, exposing workers to disturbing content that can have lasting psychological effects.
As the tech industry continues to grapple with the challenges of content moderation, companies need to ensure that workers are treated fairly and provided with adequate support. The recent protests in Kenya are a reminder that workers’ rights must be respected and that companies have a responsibility to uphold labor laws and provide a safe working environment.