NAIROBI: A Kenyan court on Monday rejected a bid by Facebook's parent company Meta to stop a lawsuit accusing it of exploitation and poor working conditions.
The case was brought by a former content moderator at Sama, a company contracted by Meta to review Facebook posts, and alleges that workers in Kenya were subjected to inhumane conditions, including forced labour, irregular pay and no right to unionise.
Meta sought to have the case struck down, arguing that the local employment and labour relations court had no jurisdiction over it because it is neither based in nor trades in Kenya.
But High Court judge Jacob Gakeri on Monday dismissed the request.
"My finding is that (the) second and third respondent shall not be struck from the proceeding," Gakeri said, referring to Meta Platforms Inc and Meta Platforms Ireland Ltd.
The judge said the companies were "proper parties" in the case, with the court now due to meet on March 8 to discuss how it will proceed to a hearing.
Meta could not be immediately reached for comment.
British-based legal activist firm Foxglove, which is supporting the case, said it was "extremely pleased" with the ruling.
"We think it's right that this trial be heard in Kenya, where the abuses happened," Foxglove director Cori Crider said in a statement.
Amnesty International Kenya also welcomed the decision, saying it was "a significant step that ensures the authority of Kenyan courts to protect and enforce fundamental human rights."
Meta has faced scrutiny over the working conditions of content moderators who say they spend hours focused on hateful, disturbing posts with little regard for their well-being.
Facebook's content moderation for eastern and southern Africa is based out of Nairobi.
The company is facing another lawsuit in Kenya, filed by two individuals and a rights group, which accuses the tech behemoth of responding inadequately to hateful content on its platform, especially in relation to the war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region.
One of the petitioners said his father, an ethnic Tigrayan, had been targeted by racist messages on Facebook before his murder in November 2021, and the social media giant had failed to move quickly to remove these posts.
They also accused Meta of subjecting its content moderators in Nairobi to "inhumane" working conditions, with the overstretched team overseeing a vast region covering 500 million people.
The petitioners are asking the court – which begins hearing the matter on Wednesday – for the establishment of a 200-billion Kenyan shilling (US$1.6-billion/RM6.88bil) compensation fund for victims of hate and violence incited on Facebook.
Facebook was rocked in 2021 by revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen that suggested executives were aware their platforms could fuel hate speech and damage the mental health of young people.
In late 2021, Rohingya refugees sued Facebook for US$150bil (RM645bil), claiming the social network failed to stem hate speech directed against them.
The Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority, were driven from Myanmar in 2017 into neighbouring Bangladesh by security forces in a crackdown now subject to a UN genocide investigation.
AFP is involved in a partnership with Meta providing fact-checking services in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. – AFP