US Big Tech pays Kenyan AI workers less than $2 (Kshs 265) to watch hours of disturbing content

Kenyan tech workers are raising their voices against what they call “modern-day slavery” at the hands of US tech giants. Their plea, encapsulated in a May 22nd open letter addressed to President Biden, details harrowing working conditions and exploitation in the AI and content moderation sectors.

These workers are often exposed to “murder and beheadings, child abuse and rape, pornography and bestiality" content for over 8 hours a day.
US Big Tech pays Kenyan AI workers less than $2 (Kshs 265) to watch hours of disturbing content

Their open letter paints a bleak picture of a tech industry that thrives on the backs of exploited workers. They report being forced to view graphic and disturbing content, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder in many cases. The letter also highlights instances of union-busting, unpaid wages, and disregard for Kenyan labour laws by US tech companies.

The letter, published on the website of UK-based activist group Foxglove, an organization that advocates for tech-worker unions and equitable technology, calls on President Biden to intervene and ensure that US companies operating in Kenya adhere to international labour standards and respect Kenyan law. They demand a seat at the table in any US-Kenya trade negotiations and want to ensure that future agreements include robust labour protections.

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This plea comes on the heels of President Ruto’s recent visit to the US, where trade, investment, and technological innovation were key discussion points. The government brokered a deal with Google to bolster eCitizen security through Google Cloud and boost internet connectivity across the country through the Umoja optic fiber cable. While there’s no public information on whether Ruto raised this issue with Biden, the workers’ letter serves as a stark reminder of the human cost behind the gleaming facade of technological progress.

These workers aren’t asking for handouts; they are demanding fair treatment, dignity, and safe working conditions. They are the backbone of the digital economy, ensuring that platforms are safe and usable, yet they are treated as disposable. Their voices echo the concerns of many Kenyans who see the tech boom as a double-edged sword, bringing jobs but also exploitation.

The Kenyan government, under President Ruto’s leadership, now faces the challenge of balancing the desire for foreign investment and technological advancement with the imperative to protect its citizens. The workers’ letter is a call to action, not just for the US government but also for Kenyan authorities to stand up for the rights of their citizens and ensure that the benefits of the tech boom are shared equitably.

The plight of these Kenyan tech workers is a microcosm of the global struggle for fair labour practices in the digital age. Their courage in speaking out is a testament to the growing power of worker movements and the increasing scrutiny of corporate practices worldwide.


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