Negotiations between content moderators, Meta and its former outsourcing partner Sama have broken down over a labor dispute pending in a Kenyan court.
Background of the Dispute
Over 180 moderators are suing Sama and Meta for unlawful dismissal after mass layoffs in 2020. The moderators allege that Meta and Sama failed to provide adequate redundancy notice and severance pay as required by Kenyan labor laws.
Their termination packages were also tied to signing non-disclosure agreements, which the moderators contest. Additionally, they are suing Meta’s current African partner Majorel for alleged discrimination in blacklisting former Sama employees.
The moderators had been working for Sama, reviewing and removing harmful content from Facebook and Instagram. Sama shut down its content moderation operations in Kenya and laid off hundreds of employees as the company shifted focus to data labeling services.
The employees accuse Sama of not following proper redundancy procedures under Kenyan employment laws while letting them go, leaving them in the lurch without notice or adequate termination benefits.
Failed Mediation Efforts
The attorney representing the moderators informed the court that mediation was unsuccessful as the respondents, Meta, Sama and Majorel, showed no genuine interest in reaching a settlement.
Sama expressed disappointment at the failed talks but stated that they have managed to resolve issues with some 60 moderators outside of court mediation.
Moderators’ Key Demands
The moderators are seeking compensation for distress caused and want Sama to revoke the redundancy notices. They want Meta to establish mental health support systems for moderators like those available to its employees worldwide.
The job of moderating content on social media comes with mental health risks due to exposure to graphic and disturbing material. The moderators allege Meta and Sama failed to provide adequate psychosocial support, unlike what direct employees at Meta’s offices receive.
The moderators also want the right to unionize officially recognized by the companies. Their demands likely remained unmet, leading to the collapse of mediation.
No Progress on Key Issues
According to experts monitoring the case, the talks failed as core concerns like compensation, health support systems and unionization remained unresolved. Meta and Sama were apparently unwilling to meet the moderators’ demands on these issues.
With no progress on the major areas of contention, the moderators felt the mediation was fruitless and opted to take the matter back to court.
Meta’s Denial of Employer Status
Meta has in previous proceedings maintained that it was not the moderators’ employer — to which a Kenyan judge disagreed, saying the moderators did Meta’s work, using its technology, and adhered to its performance and accuracy metrics.
Meta tried to distance itself from direct employer obligations by classifying the moderators as third-party contractors under Sama. However, the court ruled Meta still had a duty of care given the moderators were doing core work for its platforms.
Next Steps: The Court Battle
With the out-of-court talks failing, the suit will now proceed to Kenya’s employment and labor relations court. Sama maintains it followed local labor regulations during the layoffs. However, the court found merit in the moderators’ claims and allowed the case to proceed.
The moderators will continue fighting for adequate compensation, health support and the right to unionize – issues central to their work rights.
The outcome of the court case will have far-reaching implications for the rights of outsourced content moderators in Africa and the obligations of tech giants like Meta towards them.
If Meta is compelled to provide mental health support and recognize moderators’ unions, it could set a precedent for social media platforms’ duties towards contract workers handling risky content moderation work worldwide.
Platforms like Facebook and YouTube depend on cheap outsourced labor to keep their content clean at scale. However, this labor force operates as contract workers without many benefits and rights.
This Kenyan case is an important step in holding tech giants accountable for the welfare and fair treatment of content moderators who form the invisible backbone of their content moderation operations.