Facebook’s parent company Meta is facing strong pushback from human rights groups over its handling of a whistleblower who alleges in a Kenyan court case that the company benefits from exploitative working conditions and has engaged in human trafficking, forced labor and union-busting.
More than 80 activists and human rights organizations, as well as tech industry leaders, called for Facebook to abandon its attempts to impose an order banning Daniel Motaung, a whistleblower from South Africa, in an open letter that was published Wednesday night. Sama and lawyers for Facebook requested a gag order against Motaung during a hearing at the court in June. They argued that his statements to the media could have a negative impact on the case.
Facebook has not responded to any requests for comment.
Motaung received $2.20 an hour to work as a content moder for Sama. Sama is an outsourcing company contracted by Facebook for the task of screening posts across sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, he was fired for trying to create a union. Motaung, along with Sama and Meta, accuse them of union-busting as well human trafficking. He’s now suing both companies in a Nairobi court.
The open letter called on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sama CEO Wendy Gonzalez to “respect Daniel’s right to speak his truth” and “immediately cease your attempts to impose a gag order.” It also calls on both Facebook and Sama to support unionization in their content moderation workforces.
Facebook asserts that Motaung never worked for it, and it is therefore a defendant in the case. Sama says that it does not mistreat workers, and is in favor of unionization.
Mercy Mutemi, Motaung’s lawyer, argued in court that Motaung and his legal team were already complying with Kenya’s rules about discussing ongoing court cases. She said that any gag order would be a violation of Motaung’s right to freedom of expression.
Learn More Facebook Asks Judge to ‘Crack the Whip’ in Attempt to Silence a Black Whistleblower
The open letter’s signatories hail from the U.S., Africa, Asia, and Europe. The signatories include Global Witness and SumOfUs. Professor Shoshana Zuboff (author of) was one of the individuals who signed this letter. Surveillance Capitalism is entering its final phaseCory Doctorow is an internet freedom activist and Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower.
“Meta and Sama publicly claim to champion freedom of expression, and to support global movements fighting for equality and racial justice,” the letter says. “It is impossible to square such statements with your actions in Kenya and with your treatment of content moderation workers globally.”
“It appears Meta and Sama would rather shut Daniel up than meaningfully address his allegations,” the letter says.
Also, the letter argues there’s a difference between Facebook’s treatment Motaung who is Black and how it treated White people seeking accountability in past. It also notes that Haugen who leaked thousands more pages of company documents last Year, and is of white descent, was allowed to talk freely. “It appears to us that [Facebook] is making a racist calculation that it can safely seek to silence Daniel without causing itself a PR crisis,” the letter says.
The letter adds that Sama, which calls itself an “ethical AI” company and claims to have lifted more than 50,000 people out of poverty, “professes to champion dignified work for all but has instead treated its own workers with callous disdain. […] It couldn’t be clearer that both Facebook and Sama view Daniel, and workers like him, as expendable.”
Motaung blew the whistle first in TIME’s February investigation. In it, he explained how he had been fired for leading an effort at unionizing his fellow workers who were earning as low as $1.50/hour. They watch videos of child abuse, murders and rapes. His work has led to Motaung being diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Learn More Inside Facebook’s African Sweatshop
“Daniel and the hundreds of colleagues who he is standing up for are an integral part of Facebook’s global workforce,” the letter says. “Their relentless work sifting through the most toxic and harmful content on the platform, including beheadings and child abuse, hour after hour, day upon day, is what keeps the company in business. Their experiences should be taken seriously and they should be encouraged and supported to speak up—not fired from their jobs and gagged.”
The next hearing in Motaung’s case is scheduled for July 27. The judge ordered Sama and Facebook lawyers to file contempt proceedings against Motaung, his attorneys and their lawyers at the previous hearing. Facebook didn’t respond to the question about whether or not they planned to file such proceedings.
Next hearing will determine whether Facebook should be dismissed or kept as a defendant. The judge may decide whether Motaung should receive anonymity from four content moderators who want to testify in his support.
Read More From Time