Why civil society wants foreign digital firms probed


Foreign companies operating in Kenya’s digital workspace are facing accusations of unethical and discriminatory practices.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • This comes in the wake of Kenyans losing jobs in the fledgling gig economy.
  • The lobby groups attribute the massive loss of gainful employment to bad labour practices.

A group of civil society organisations want President William Ruto, the Ministry of Labour and Parliament to initiate investigations on the conduct of foreign companies operating in Kenya’s digital workspace for alleged misconduct in handling their workers even as they called for formalisation of the gig economy.

The groups — including Siasa Place, Kenya Human Rights Commission, Youth Agenda, Social Justice Centre Working Group and Kariobangi Social Justice Centre — accuse these foreigners of unethical, discriminatory practices, including claims of union busting behaviour.

This comes in the wake of Kenyans losing jobs in the fledgling gig economy comprising supplies, delivery, outsourcing and ride-hailing due to shutdowns, bad labour practices and lack of State protection.

They also raised concern over the sudden closure of accounts for Remotasks, Jumia Food delivery services as well as the case where more than180 online content moderators working for Sama, a company outsourced by Facebook’s owner Meta, were dismissed.

The lobby groups attribute these massive loss of gainful employment to shutdowns, bad labour practices and lack of government protections.

“We urge the President, Parliament and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Directorate of Immigration Services to act with speed to safeguard the best interest of all the affected workers in accordance with the law,

“We want the Parliamentary Committee on Labour to commence investigations on the conduct of foreign companies operating in the digital platform work space in Kenya for unethical. Discriminatory practices,” said the groups, working under the umbrella of Project Ether.

Whereas they are cognisant of the crucial role played by these companies including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok and WhatsApp in creating a lot of job opportunities in Kenya, they question the safety and lack of dignifying work environment for their staff.

The issues they raise include a fair compensation and equal pay for equal work labour mobility across countries and new dynamics about treatment of digital workers doing digital platform work away for their home countries.

The civil societies particularly have a bone to pick with the government’s focus on the idea of all and any digital jobs without consideration for safeguards to protect the dignity and human rights of the Kenyan workers in this new mode of employment.

They also expressed their concern with the absence of clear and comprehensive framework for the protection of digital platform workers’ rights.

“We are concerned with the lack of transparency and intentional misinformation during recruitment for digital platform jobs, and intentional targeting of vulnerable groups under the guise of expanding opportunities,” they stated.

Also found wanting is the inability and unwillingness of foreign owned Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies to prioritise the mental wellbeing of their workers and provide adequate support for their welfare.

In light of this, they want all companies offering work in the digital platform workspace to conduct a self-assessment of their operations and align them with Kenya’s laws.

They also called on the BPO Association of Kenya and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance to hold their membership accountable for compliance and take steps to censure errant members for violations.