Kenyan Digital Workers Pen Letter to Biden; Demand Involvement in Trade Talks

Ruto and Biden
Photo collage of President William Ruto and President of the United States Joe Biden.

Ninety-seven data labellers, content moderators and Artificial Intelligence (AI) workers from Kenya penned an open letter to the US President demanding to be engaged in trade negotiations between the two countries.

The workers based in Kenya but working with  American tech companies lamented about the alleged abuse by some tech giants and called on to the United States Government to take action.

In the letter seen by, the workers hoped to take advantage of President Ruto’s visit to the country and have their input considered as Kenya moves to negotiate trade deals with the foreign power.

Key among the issues they posed was that their employers have been allegedly been undermining local labour laws and International Labour standards in terms of their pay and working conditions

A man pictured while working on his personal computer.
A man pictured while working on his personal computer.

They also accused the tech giants of violating international labour standards.

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

Further, they detailed that their work involves training AI generative tools through labelling content which involves laborious hours of watching gruesome content for less than minimum wage.

“We label images and text to train generative AI tools. Our work involves watching often for more than 8 hours a day. Many of us do this work for less than $2 (Ksh264) per hour”.

While expressing their concerns, the workers issued several demands to the US government to alleviate their plight.

First, the workers requested to have the US government publish drafts of their agenda of its negotiations with  Kenya in advance to have their input considered.

“Commit to engaging with us and other workers in the Big Tech supply chain, during any US – Kenya trade-related negotiations. Please commit to publishing any draft text in future negotiations so we can engage with it seriously, “ the letter stated

Secondly, the workers requested that the government ensure any US – Kenyan Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements include robust provisions to prevent the companies from weakening workers’ unions.

The workers also requested the government to ensure US companies operating in Kenya comply with the core conventions of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) – and provide serious enforcement mechanisms and meaningful penalties, should law-breaking companies fail to meet their obligations.

Further, they also requested that they ensure US Big Tech companies are held accountable in the US courts for their alleged unlawful operations abroad.

Finally, they also requested that a fundamental respect for Kenya’s Constitution and sovereignty sits at the heart of all negotiations involved in establishing the Kenyan Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Youth at the ICT Hub in Umoja
Youth at the ICT Hub in Umoja, Nairobi.
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