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Corporate responsibility group reviewing Facebook contractor’s worker treatment

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A company that outsources content moderation for Facebook is facing a review of its certification as an ethical employer amid outcry over alleged poor working conditions at its office in Kenya.

The potential loss of B Corp certification could significantly damage Sama’s branding as an ethical employer and harm its ability to raise funds. In addition to its work with Facebook, the company also has data labeling contracts with Google, Microsoft and Walmart.

The review comes on the heels of reporting detailing the California-based outsourcing company’s treatment of content moderators in Kenya. 

Workers told Time that they were earning as little as $1.50 an hour while enduring mental trauma from reviewing content and intimidation from management.

Foxglove Legal, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works with Facebook’s subcontracted content moderators worldwide, alerted the ethical corporation certifier, B Labs, about those allegations shortly after Time’s report, according to emails shared with The Hill.

An analyst at B Labs told Foxglove last month that an “initial review” had been started given that the certifier believed the complaints from workers were “credible, material and specific.” B Lab’s standards team said in another email reviewed by The Hill that it hopes to have the review concluded in mid-June.

The review comes as Sama and Meta, the newly formed parent company of Facebook, face a lawsuit from a former content moderator who was fired from the outsourcing company after publicly criticizing working conditions at its Nairobi office.

Daniel Motaung has alleged that both firms acted negligently by failing to provide moderators with sufficient mental health support after they were exposed to graphic content, including animal torture, violence and child sexual abuse material.

The lawsuit filed in a Nairobi court Tuesday also alleges that Meta and Sama engaged in illegal union busting when they fired Motaung and threatened members of a worker group he launched.

​“I helped launch The Alliance to defend myself and my co-workers. For that I was fired and forced to leave Kenya,” Motaung said in a statement. “Now I am living in a horror movie, with violence I witnessed over and over playing out in my mind.”

More than 200 employees work at Sama’s Nairobi office, reviewing content from across Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Sama’s responses to the reporting on conditions for Facebook content moderators, the firm has leaned on its status as a certified B Corporation.

“Further solidifying the efficacy of our impact work, B Labs not only granted Sama B Corporation Certification but recognized our work in its Best for the World™ list within the B Labs Workers category,” Sama wrote in a lengthy post denying the allegations brought to light in Time’s piece. The company increased employee pay after the publication of the exposé.

A spokesperson for Sama also cited the company’s B Corporation certification in response to an inquiry from The Hill about that very status being reviewed.

“We’ve helped lift more than 59,000 people out of poverty to date, and as a certified B-Corp, we proudly provide all members of our workforce with a competitive wage, benefits, upward mobility, and a robust mental health and wellness program,” they said.

“We take this litigation seriously, but the allegations against Sama are both disappointing and inaccurate. Sama is a longstanding trusted employer in East Africa,” they continued.

The spokesperson declined to comment on B Labs’s review.

Beyond its potential use in responding to criticism, B Corporation status can be important for fundraising, according to Michael Connor, executive director of the ethical investment initiative Open MIC.

“There’s enormous rush of capital into what’s called ESG – environmental, social and governance – investing,” he told The Hill. 

Sama CEO Wendy Gonzalez in 2019 suggested to the tech publication TechCrunch that being a B Corporation helped the company secure a major investment from CDPQ, a Canadian pension fund company and international investor.

The scrutiny of Sama’s treatment of workers has also brought renewed attention to Meta’s global network of subcontracted content moderators.

The company’s treatment of its out-of-house moderators has been the subject of extensive reporting detailing the mental harms caused by looking through posts, photos and videos to determine if they violate Facebook’s policies.

The platform in 2020 settled a lawsuit and agreed to pay $52 million to content moderators who said they had developed mental health issues, including PTSD, on the job.

Meta has said it requires its partners, such as Sama, to provide sufficient pay, benefits and mental health support.

The Hill has reached out a Meta spokesperson for comment on the allegations concerning its moderators contracted through Sama.

Tags content moderation Google Nairobi Sama Social media

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