Kenyan tech workers urge Biden to end ‘modern day slavery’ ahead of state visit

A group of nearly 100 tech workers from Kenya wrote a letter to President Biden ahead of Thursday’s Kenya state dinner at the White House, urging him to end “modern day slavery” in the country’s tech sector.

The authors of the letter work as data labelers, content moderators and artificial intelligence (AI) workers for American companies like Meta’s Facebook, ScaleAI and OpenAI.

“US Big Tech companies are systematically abusing and exploiting African workers. In Kenya, these US companies are undermining the local labor laws, the country’s justice system and violating international labor standards,” they wrote in the letter.

“Our working conditions amount to modern day slavery. Any trade-related discussions between the US and Kenya must take into account these abuses and ensure that the rights of all workers are protected,” the letter continued.

The state dinner will honor Kenyan President William Ruto and first lady Rachel Ruto, marking the 60th anniversary of the United States’s “partnership” with Kenya.

The tech workers noted that Biden and Ruto will discuss the trade, investment and technological innovation shared between the two countries.

They called on the Biden administration to commit to working with Big Tech employees in Kenya and to ensure that partnerships going forward will include provisions so U.S. companies comply with international labor regulations.

They want companies that break the international labor rules to face “serious enforcement mechanisms and meaningful penalties.”

“We do this work at great cost to our health, our lives and our families. US tech giants export their toughest and most dangerous jobs overseas. The work is mentally and emotionally draining,” they said.

The work includes going through social media platforms to ensure they don’t “become awash” with hate speech and violence. They label images and train AI on things including watching murders, beheadings, child abuse, rape, pornography and bestiality. They do this work for less than $2 an hour, they wrote.

“Without our work these platforms would be unusable and companies like Meta would lose billions of dollars overnight, yet we are paid a fraction of what workers in the US earn,” the letter said.

“We should not have to sacrifice our health, our wellbeing and sadly, in some cases our lives for the profit margins of Big Tech. We urge you to take action and consider our requests carefully in these discussions and beyond,” the letter concluded.

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