TikTok concerned about labor rights, leaked memo reveals

In a landmark decision last month, a Kenyan court found Meta to be the “beneficial employer” of hundreds of moderators working in Nairobi, Kenya, meaning Meta can be held liable in Kenya for labor rights violations, even if the moderators are technically employed by a third-party contractor. Meta will appeal the decision, TechCrunch reported.

Moderators are responsible for filtering violent, hateful and shocking content on Meta platforms.

Meta previously had a contract with a company called Sama, and he now has a contract with a company called Majorel. TikTok, the short-form video app, also contracts moderators in Kenya with Majorel, and leaked memos may imply the company violated labor rights.

The original case against Meta was filed by Daniel Motaung, a South African moderator who says he was fired in 2019 after trying to form a union. Motaung claimed that the job exposed him to traumatic and disturbing content, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder. He was reportedly paid as little as $2.20 an hour for the work, WIRED released in February.

Motaung also claimed that the true nature of the job was never explicitly explained to him before taking on the role which would ultimately leave him traumatized.

As Motaung’s case progressed, in January Meta attempted to sever ties with Sama (resulting in the loss of 260 moderators) and transfer its operations to another third-party company, Majorel (TikTok partner), by WIRED.

After 184 moderators sued Meta and Sama alleging unlawful termination of contracts, the court ruled in favor of the moderators in March, extending their contracts and preventing layoffs until the case is resolved. The court found that Meta was the primary employer and that Sama was “merely an agent” supervising the work on his behalf.

The court also ordered Meta and Sama to provide medical, psychiatric and psychological care to moderators, recognizing the “intrinsically dangerous” nature of their work filtering social media content to eliminate hate, misinformation and violence.

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As for TikTok, leaked documents obtained by the NGO Foxglove Legal and consulted by WIRED suggest the company is concerned about the potential legal repercussions it could face if the Kenyan court ruling sets a precedent.

“TikTok will likely face reputational and regulatory risks for its contractual arrangement with Majorel in Kenya,” the memo said, adding that if the court rules in favor of the moderators, “TikTok and its competitors could face intense scrutiny for actual or perceived labor rights violations.”

In response to the situation, TikTok is considering an independent audit of Majorel’s operations in Kenya to address potential concerns about labor practices, according to the leaked documents.

However, similar measures have been criticized for being performative and not leading to substantial improvements in workers’ conditions, said Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University. WIRED — a reality that TikTok appears to be aware of, as the memo said such audits “could mitigate further scrutiny from union representatives and the news media.”

Although TikTok has the ability to proactively address the issue, some experts warn that the company may simply be trying to mitigate blame rather than genuinely improve working conditions for its outsourced workers.

“I think it would be very unfortunate if TikTok said, ‘We’re going to try to minimize liability, minimize our liability, and not just outsource this work, but outsource our responsibility to make sure the work done on behalf of our platform is done in a proper and humane way,'” Barrett said. WIRED.

Entrepreneur contacted TikTok and Meta for comment.

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