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South African taking Facebook to court over labour practices is not ‘gagged’ ahead of the case

Business Insider SA
Meta has to deal with a controversial lawsuit Kenya.
Meta has to deal with a controversial lawsuit Kenya.
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  • Activist groups have accused Facebook owner Meta of trying to gag Daniel Motaung, a former employee at Sama.
  • Sama is a Nairobi-based company, which moderates content on behalf of Facebook.
  • Motaung made headlines when he was fired after trying to start a union at Sama.
  • He is now suing Sama and Meta in a Nairobi court for exploitative working conditions, engaging in human trafficking, forced labour, and union-busting.
  • Meta says it did not try to gag Motaung.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Activists working to curb the power of the big tech companies are claiming a victory against Meta, the owner of Facebook, ahead of a court case that could see it held accountable for how content moderators are treated at an outsourced firm.

Activist groups, the SumOfUs and People vs Big Tech, have accused Meta of trying to get a gag order issued against Daniel Motaung, a former employee at Sama, a Nairobi-based company that moderates content on behalf of Facebook.

Motaung made headlines when he was fired after trying to start a union at Sama in 2019.

He is now suing Sama and Meta in a Nairobi court for exploitative working conditions, engaging in human trafficking, forced labour, and union-busting.

The activist groups said Meta tried to obtain a gag order against Motaung and Foxglove, a UK-based NGO. They said the order would have meant he and Foxglove could no longer speak publicly about the allegations he had made against Sama and Meta.

This saw them getting 80 individuals and organisations, which included former US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard, to sign an open letter calling on Meta to not put a gag order on Motaung.

No one was gagged

For its part, Meta said it did not try to gag Motaung.

“We have not issued contempt of court proceedings against Daniel Motaung, nor have we requested that any gag order be applied to him," a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

It also said that aside from this statement, it had nothing else to say on the matter.

Meta did not answer questions on whether it had investigated labour practices at Sama.

Sama did, however, retain its B Corp certification, which in part measures the company’s efforts when it comes to creating a “specific positive outcome for one of its stakeholders - such as workers, community, environment, or customers.”

B Lab, the issuer of the certification, says it’s waiting for the result of the case before reassessing.

“Pending the outcome of the lawsuit, further action against Sama may also be taken in the form of a formal investigation with the decision on eligibility by B Lab’s Standards Advisory Council," it said.

A win is a win

The activists are nevertheless claiming victory ahead of the case in Nairobi’s Employment and Labour Relations court, which is set to start on Wednesday 27 July.

"Facebook’s brazen attempt to deny what its own lawyers said in court is shocking. This U-turn to drop their threat against Daniel seems to be a direct response to public pressure. It is a victory for Daniel and his quest to seek justice for Facebook moderators in Kenya and globally,” said Flora Rebello Arduini, campaign director at SumOfUs.

Though no gag order is in effect, for now, Motaung is still not speaking to the media.

He did, however, say, in an interview with Time magazine in February 2022, that he was left traumatised by his experience at Sama.

“That sort of thing can change who you are. It can destroy the fibre of your entire being.”

What Motaung wants

In the court action Motaung is bringing against Sama and Meta, he and Foxglove want:

Facebook to bring in mental health support for outsourced content moderators equivalent to the system in place for Facebook’s directly employed workers, as well as an equivalent pay scale. 

Facebook and Sama must allow moderators to form unions, publicly acknowledge moderators’ right to form a union and post physical notices in the workplace making this clear.

Facebook and Sama must appoint independent human rights and psychological care consultants to conduct an internal audit of the Nairobi office to report to the court within 30 days with recommendations on how to end the toxic working environment.

Facebook and Sama must pay wages that were unlawfully kept from content moderators, as well as pay each former and existing moderator damages and provide funds for them to find and pay for mental health support.


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