Meta and moderators agree to mediation on labor dispute

Content moderators suing Meta and its former content review partner in Africa, Sama, for alleged unlawful dismissal, have agreed to settle the case out of court.

The 184 moderators have agreed to mediation five months after they filed the suit, a turn of events that is likely to end one of the most prolific cases that Meta has faced on the continent.

This comes after Kenya’s employment and labor relations court asked the parties, during the last directions hearing, to consider settling the matter out of court.

“The parties shall pursue an out of court settlement of this petition through mediation. The proceedings of the mediation shall be confidential except the final agreement reached which shall be filed in court and adopted as an order of the court,” said a consent order signed by the moderators, Meta and Sama, and approved by the employment and labor relations court.

The parties have picked Kenya’s former chief justice Dr. Willy Mutunga and deputy labor commissioner at the Ministry of Labor and Social Development Hellen Apiyo as co-mediators. The negotiations will take place within 21 days.

“Should the parties fail to reach an amicable agreement within the stated time frame, the matter shall proceed before the Employment and Labour relations court,” said the consent order.

The moderators sued Meta and Sama for allegedly dismissing them in an unlawful fashion, claiming that no redundancy notices were issued. They added that, among other issues, they were not issued with a 30-day termination notice as is required by Kenyan law, and that their terminal dues were hinged on signing non-disclosure agreements. They also alleged discrimination by Meta’s new content moderation partner, Majorel, who they claim blacklisted all of Sama’s previous employees. The moderators sought compensation for “distress caused,” and for Sama to reverse the redundancy notice. They also wanted Meta, Sama and Majorel to acknowledge their right to unionize. Sama has maintained it adhered to Kenya's labor laws.

Sama hired the moderators from across the continent, including from Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and South Africa, to filter social media posts on Meta’s platforms. The moderators remove content that perpetrates and perpetuates hate, misinformation and violence, work they claim in the case has affected “their mental health and general well-being.”

Sama dropped Meta’s contract and content review services to concentrate on labeling work (computer vision data annotation). Alongside Meta, the company has also been sued by former content moderator Daniel Motaung for forced labor and human trafficking, unfair labor relations, failing to provide adequate mental health support and union busting. Motuang was allegedly laid off organizing a strike in 2019, and trying to unionize Sama’s employees.

Meta has also been sued by Ethiopians in Kenya for allegedly fueling the conflicts that led to the deaths of 500,000 Ethiopians during the Tigray War that ended late last year.