Sama accused of unethical data labeling, content moderation

Occurred: February 2022

The team moderating content for Facebook suffered low pay, poor working conditions and alleged union-busting at training data company Sama's office in Nairobi, Kenya

TIME found that Kenyan employees for Sama receive a take-home wage equivalent to around USD 1.46 per hour after tax, had to work up to nine hours per day, were continuously monitored, and were measured against metrics for average time spent and quality. The metrics contradicted public statements by Facebook about not setting expectations on its contractors. 

According to TIME, at least two Sama content moderators resigned after being diagnosed with mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Former employee and whistleblower Daniel Motaung told TIME he had been unlawfuly fired for leading over 100 Sama workers in an attempted strike that aimed to secure better pay for staff.

In a blog post responding to TIME's investigation, Sama claimed its rate of pay was fair, arguing 'the article falsely alleges that Sama does not compensate its employees fairly'. Two weeks later the company said it would increase salaries by 30 to 50 percent.

Meta avoided commenting on Sama employment practices, and has not made public its audits of Sama's Kenya office. 

Sama reputedly failed to confirm rumours that its managers had attempted to suppress unionisation efforts at its operation in Kenya in 2019.

In January 2023, Time journalist Billy Perrigo revealed that OpenAI used Kenyan workers being paid less than USD 2 an hour to de-toxify Open AI's ChatGPT and GPT-3 large language model. According to Perrigo, 'the work’s traumatic nature eventually led Sama to cancel all its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months earlier than planned.'

In May 2023, a judge ruled that Meta could be sued in Kenya after 43 moderators at its Nairobi hub filed a lawsuit against the group and Sama for unfair termination. 

Developer: Sama AI/Samasource; Meta/Facebook
Country: Kenya
Sector: Business/professional services
Purpose: Label data; Moderate content
Technology: Data labeling system; Content moderation system
Issue: Employment - pay, jobs, working conditions, unionisation
Transparency: Governance; Marketing - misleading

Page info
Type: Issue
Published: March 2022
Last updated: May 2023