Meta content review partner Sama told by court to pay moderators

Meta’s content moderation partner in Africa, Sama, was earlier today compelled by a Kenyan court to pay April salaries to a section of moderators it had left out. The direction comes days after moderators picketed at Sama headquarters in Kenya demanding April pay.

The court ordered Sama to continue paying the moderators following an urgent application filed on April 27 that sought to have it compelled to pay the salaries and observe orders issued in March.

The 184 moderators sued Sama for allegedly laying them off unlawfully, after it wound down its content review arm in March, and Majorel, the social media giant’s new partner in Africa, for blacklisting on instruction by Meta.

Today, the judge directed “Sama to continue paying the petitioners being Facebook moderators...and within the terms of the orders given by court.”

The court had on April 28 also issued orders preserving the moderators immigration status. The moderators, hired from across the continent, including from Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and South Africa, were facing deportation.

Sama told TechCrunch that it “takes all orders from the court seriously and will continue to follow the detailed advice provided by our counsel to ensure we are working within the bounds of local law.”

However, it said today’s “hearing hasn't changed previous advice -- Sama is continuing to pay all moderators who have valid contracts,” to mean that a majority of the moderators will not be receiving pay, as they "were hired on term contracts that ended at the same time as the expiry of the moderation contract with Facebook," said Sama. Those alleged to have no contracts were required by Sama to clear with the company by March 11.

After Sama announced it plans to wind down its content review arm in January, it issued all its content reviewers with a redundancy notice for March 31 -- which led to the emergency petition, and the court orders on March 21.

The court issued temporary orders barring Sama from effecting any form of redundancy, and Meta from engaging Majorel. Majorel was also instructed to refrain from blacklisting ex-Sama moderators.

The court directed Sama to continue reviewing content on Meta’s platforms, and to be its sole provider in Africa pending determination of the case. However, Sama sent the moderators on compulsory leave in April saying it had no work for them as its contract with Meta had expired.

The moderators filed the suit in March alleging that Sama failed to issue redundancy notices, as required by Kenyan law, that the moderators were not issued with a 30-day termination notice, and that their terminal dues were pegged on their signing of non-disclosure documents among other claims. Sama says it observed the Kenyan law, including giving the employees enough notice.

Sama announced in January that it was dropping Meta’s contract and content review services, laying off 260 people in the process, to concentrate on labeling work (computer vision data annotation). This came months after another lawsuit was filed in Kenya by its former content moderator, Daniel Motaung.

Motuang, a South African, had accused Sama and Meta of forced labor and human trafficking, unfair labor relations, union busting and failure to provide “adequate” mental health and psychosocial support. He was allegedly laid off for organizing a 2019 strike and trying to unionize Sama’s employees. Sama and Majorel moderators earlier this week voted to form a union.

Updated to include Sama's comment