A group of Facebook content moderators in Kenya is taking the platform’s parent company Meta and two outsourcing companies to court, a tech rights group said Monday. A total of 43 workers for outsourcing company Sama, who moderated Facebook content, are bringing the lawsuit for what they allege was unlawful dismissal under Kenyan law.
Sama, which was hired by Meta to moderate Facebook content from Nairobi in 2019, informed 260 content moderators at the start of the year that they were being laid off, according to Foxglove, a technology justice no-nprofit that is supporting the lawsuit.
It came after a TIME investigation found low pay, trauma and alleged union-busting at the hub and a former employee began legal proceedings against Meta and Sama for what he alleges was unfair dismissal for union organising, among other claims.
Foxglove says that Facebook is not eliminating the content moderation work, but has rather switched to another outsourcing firm, Majorel, at what it says is “a fraction of the pay and in worse living conditions.” Majorel currently handles TikTok’s moderation in Kenya, according to Foxglove.
Foxglove said that several of the moderators who had lost their jobs re-applied to vacant spots at Majorel for what appeared to be the same work, paying less than Sama did. They were unsuccessful and Foxglove alleges that Majorel’s recruiters indicated that they were instructed to not hire any of the moderators who had just been laid off from Sama.
“The case brought today argues that the 260 moderators being fired – and denied future employment – are being punished for this and subsequent union organising in violation of Kenyan law,” Foxglove said in a statement Monday.
The content moderators are now bringing on a so-called constitutional petition in Kenya’s Employment and Labour Relations Court against Facebook, Sama and Majorel on the grounds that retaliating against employees who were seeking better work conditions is unlawful discrimination.
“This is a union-busting operation masquerading as a mass redundancy. You can’t just switch suppliers and tell recruiters not to hire your workers because they are ‘troublemakers’ – that is, because they have the temerity to stand up for themselves,” said Cori Crider, co-director of Foxglove, in the statement.
In the suit, the content moderators are asking a Kenyan court to end the layoff process and ensure that the jobs of existing Sama workers are protected. They are also requesting full compensation for the distress caused to workers and for Facebook, Sama and Majorel to formally acknowledge the right of moderators to organise.
Sama said in a statement to TIME it had “not been served yet by any entity on this matter,” adding that “discontinuing the content moderation business was a difficult decision that we made when Sama shifted its focus to computer vision data annotation technology platform and solutions.”
Meta declined to comment and representatives for Majorel did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
Last year, former Sama content moderator Daniel Motaung brought the initial lawsuit against Meta and Sama, alleging he was unlawfully fired for organising a union of moderators protesting against working conditions.
Motaung alleges both companies are guilty of multiple violations of Kenyan law. Meta has argued that the Kenyan court has no jurisdiction because it is not based in Kenya. A judge ruled last month that the company could still be sued in Kenya.
- A Tell / Time report