Meta has been at the centre of numerous controversies for years, from its handling of user data to its role in spreading misinformation and disinformation. But its latest legal trouble, involving content moderators in Africa, highlights a different kind of problem: the exploitation of vulnerable workers in the global South.
Earlier this week, a Kenyan court issued an interim injunction. This injunction bars Meta from engaging its new content moderation subcontractor, Majorel. So it will remain in place pending the hearing of a new case filed by 43 content moderators. The moderators allege illegal sacking and blacklisting. The court also barred Meta’s outgoing content moderation partner, Sama, from effecting any form of redundancy.
The temporary ban prevents Meta from engaging any content moderators in Kenya through Majorel or any other agent, partner, or representative. Meanwhile, Sama will continue to offer exclusive content review services to Meta until the court’s decision.
According to the moderators’ petition, Sama failed to follow Kenyan law by not issuing redundancy notices to its employees before shutting down its content review arm in January. The moderators also claim that they were not given a 30-day termination notice and that their terminal dues were tied to signing non-disclosure documents.
Sama denies any wrongdoing and says it communicated its decision to discontinue content moderation to the affected employees through a town hall, email, and notification letters. However, the moderators are alleging “unlawful termination” by Sama and discrimination by Majorel, who they claim blacklisted all of Sama’s previous employees. Moderators who applied for jobs at Majorel were reportedly denied because of their previous employment at Sama’s facility.
The Kenyan court has also prohibited Meta and Majorel from blacklisting qualified content moderators because they previously worked at Sama.
The court case follows a previous lawsuit in which an ex-employee sued Sama and Meta for union-busting, revealing the unhealthy working conditions that moderators face to make social sites like Facebook less toxic. With the injunction in place, Meta will have to navigate the content moderation landscape in the region with Sama’s support while it awaits the court’s decision.
The more concerning problem is that Meta seems to be building an unpleasant pattern. The current suit is the third Meta is facing in Kenya, after another case was filed in December by Ethiopians over claims that the social media giant had failed to employ enough safety measures on Facebook, which, in turn, fueled the conflicts that have led to deaths, including the father of one of the petitioners, and 500,000 Ethiopians during the Tigray War that ended late last year.
Meta’s ordeal is only the latest episode of a larger problem — unethical layoffs. Several tech companies in Africa have flouted labour laws and engaged in unethical layoffs. For instance, late last year, Twitter laid off dozens of workers from its newly set-up Africa headquarters in Ghana without adequate notice or compensation.
The issue of unethical layoffs is not unique to African countries, but it is particularly problematic in the region due to weaker labour protections and fewer resources for workers to seek recourse. So, as Meta’s case in Kenya unfolds, it’s also a salient call for African countries to strengthen policies that protect workers.