A Kenyan court has set a new date to hear submissions in a lawsuit brought against Meta and one of its outsourcing partners by a former Facebook content moderator, who accuses the companies of exploitation and union busting.
Daniel Motaung, the former moderator — heralded now internationally as a whistleblower — had filed a lawsuit in May against Meta and its Nairobi-based subcontractor, Sama, following his termination in 2019 amid an effort to unionize for better pay and working conditions.
In June, Meta’s lawyers asked the court to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that because the company is not registered in Kenya it cannot be tried there. On Thursday, justice Jacob Gakeri pushed a hearing on the matter to Oct. 25 to accommodate Meta’s attorney, Fred Ojiambo, who sought an adjournment due to a scheduling conflict.
Motaung, who’s in his late twenties, has alleged that he and other workers at Sama were subjected to a toxic workplace environment that bred extreme mental distress.
A Black South African university graduate, Motaung traveled to Nairobi in 2019 after securing a position at Sama to moderate online content. His story has been extensively reported on this year by Time magazine.
Motaung told the court that only after he arrived in Nairobi and signed a non-disclosure agreement were the details of his job revealed: For up to nine hours a day, he and other Sama employees were bombarded with traumatizing images, asked to decide whether to leave up or take down content that entailed videos of violence and rape, including some depicting dismemberment.
Motaung reportedly assumed a leadership role among roughly 100 workers intent on petitioning Sama for better working conditions. Some employees decried a lack of promised medical insurance, others mandatory night-shifts imposed to keep pace with the avalanche of illicit content inundating Meta’s platform. Some, who like Motaung traveled from abroad, said they were offered employment under false pretenses, kept oblivious to the trauma-inducing aspects of the job until it was too late to back out — conduct that Motaung and his lawyers argue amounts to human trafficking.
In its reporting this year, Time stated that testimony by more than dozen current and former employees had revealed a workplace culture “characterized by mental trauma, intimidation, and alleged suppression of the right to unionize,” adding that observers have accused Meta and other Western tech companies of “exporting trauma along old colonial axes of power, away from the U.S. and Europe and toward the developing word.”
From one such account this February:
TIME is aware of at least two Sama content moderators who chose to resign after being diagnosed with mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Many others described how they had been traumatized by the work but were unable to obtain formal diagnoses due to their inability to afford access to quality mental healthcare. Some described continuing with work despite trauma because they had no other options...
Sama, reported to employ roughly 200 Meta moderators covering Sub-Saharan Africa at the time, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment; however, it has previously claimed that its outsourcing partners are required to provide “industry-leading pay, benefits, and support.”
Motaung’s suit seeks compensation on behalf of current and former Sama employees; an order compelling Meta to treat outsourced moderators the same as its own workers in terms of benefits and pay; as well as others ensuring unionizing rights and an independent human rights audit of Sama’s offices.