A Kenyan court has ruled that Meta can be sued in the East African country over alleged unlawful sacking and blacklisting of content moderators, and dismissed the social media giant’s application that sought to have the case thrown out.
Meta Platforms Inc. and Meta Platforms Ireland Ltd. wanted the case nullified on claims that they are foreign companies, and that Kenyan courts lack the jurisdiction to hear and determine petitions against them.
Meta and its content review partners in sub-Saharan Africa, Sama and Majorel, have been sued in Kenya by 183 content moderators. The moderators claim they were fired by Sama unlawfully after it wound down its content review arm, and that Meta instructed its new Luxembourg-based partner, Majorel, to blacklist ex-Sama content moderators.
The court said it has the “jurisdiction to determine the matter of alleged unlawful and unfair termination of employment on grounds of redundancy” by Meta and Sama. It also said it has the authority “to enforce alleged violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms” by Meta, Sama and Majorel.
“The present dispute arises from an employer – employee dispute. The court will consider the nature and extent of liability with regard to the alleged breaches and violations of the Constitution arising and or related to employment and Labour relations in Kenya,” added the labor relations court.
“It is in the court’s considered finding that it is immaterial whether the alleged violations occur in a physical or virtual space within the jurisdiction of this Court in Kenya.” The ruling now paves the way for a full hearing.
The court also upheld interim orders issued mid-March temporarily barring Meta from engaging its new content moderation subcontractor, Majorel, and Sama from conducting any form of redundancy pending the determination of the case. Sama has since sent moderators on permanent leave, leaving Meta’s content review in sub-Saharan Africa in limbo.
The moderators claim that Sama failed to issue redundancy notices, as required by the Kenyan law, and that their terminal dues were pegged on their signing of non-disclosure documents.
Sama argues that it observed the law, and communicated the decision to discontinue content moderation in a town hall meeting, and through email and notification letters.
Sama laid off its employees at the end of last month after it wound down its content moderation arm to concentrate on labeling work (computer vision data annotation), laying off 260 moderators at its hub in Kenya, which hosted moderators from various countries within Africa.
Meta and Sama are also facing another case over claims of exploitation and union busting. Some Ethiopians have also sued the social media giant over claims that it amplified hateful content, and failed to have enough personnel, with an understanding of local languages, to moderate content.