Sama AI embroiled in yet more controversy over worker treatment

Sama AI embroiled in yet more controversy over worker treatment
Courtesy of The Guardian

Just a few months after Judge Byram Ongaya of Nairobi’s Labour Court ruled that Sama AI, a US-based company that moderates content and trains AI models for Facebook on behalf of Meta in Nairobi, had illegally terminated the contracts of around 200 employees another scandal has rocked the company. 


Formerly, Meta’s largest provider of content moderators, Sama’s lucrative contract was terminated after a landslide of labour and human rights abuse allegations. Most of the workers interviewed painted a desperate picture. Low wages with untimely transfers, poor working conditions as moderators exposed to traumatic content were not monitored and consistent anti-union activities, including the firing of a leader, were reported globally. Forcing Meta to re-evaluate their relationship due to unwanted public attention, their contract was not renewed. 


This month, it has been reported that Sama has been sheltering an employee accused of sexual assault by a number of colleagues. A woman who had recently moved from South Africa to take up work at Sama, says she was approached at her apartment by a colleague who lived in the same area, he then raped her. After discussing the crime with Sama’s management, they told her to not involve the police, and then “repeatedly tried to persuade me to forgive him”. According to the woman, during a call with a counsellor, they allowed the suspected rapist to join the discussion ‘in order to apologise’. They did little to enquire as to how she thought the situation should be resolved. 


In their attempts to distance themselves from the situation, Annepeace Alwala, vice-president of Sama’s global service delivery, stated that the organisation does provide “a safe and respectful environment” and that they “had no way to action any allegations of wrongdoing”, despite evidence indicating that management attempted to cover the crime. 


Worse, another Sama employee reported the same crime, perpetrated by the same man. After opening her door to the Sama employee, he raped her and escaped. This time, despite coercive pressures to keep the crime within Sama, the victim did go to the police. She was then fired after accusations that she had “coming to work drunk, unable to walk or talk” and was given a severance pay of $350 USD, less than a months salary. 


The most recent iteration of Sama’s attitudes to the health of it’s employees is rather indicative of an organisation that sees the humans it employees as workers, and only workers. Whilst some have reported that Sama had acted in a ‘lacklustre’ manner or lazily, impACT wishes to state that this is a rather naive point. It is clear from the manner in which union leaders, members, or simply those asking to be paid what they are owed was seen as direct confrontation by Sama. The rape of two women by another male employee can be seen in the same manner. The rapes themselves reflected a possible threat to the financial and social position of Sama, who had been grappling with numerous other accusations and legal issues, and were desperate to prevent the further deterioration of the companies value. The coercive suggestions to not contact the police do nothing but further this point.


Currently, the first victim has since moved back to South Africa due to trauma and difficulties relating to her attack and the second woman's contract was terminated as part of the other 200-or so illegal sackings. The perpetrator is currently free and supposedly employed after fleeing to Uganda then returning to Kenya.


impACT suggests that Kenya’s courts further investigate the ongoings at Sama. Whilst the shocking revelations of the case indicate horrendous treatment, it is likely that this is not the last report of similar issues. Such brazen and hostile attitudes towards their staff, particularly their female staff illustrates a pervasive attitudes that are likely to have bred similar situations. It is therefore vital that, alongside investigations into union-busting, wage theft and poor treatment in general, that non-male employees are interviewed to ensure no further crimes. Due to the severity of these crimes, impACT suggests that those all employees, previous and current, at Sama urge the High Court to re-engage the investigation into the ongoings at Sama in order to ensure full restitution for those mistreated whilst employed there. 


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