Data Workers Organizing - The African Content Moderators Union

The formation of the African Content Moderators Union in 2023 marked a key step for workers advocating for better conditions. This documentary explores the issues faced by data workers at Sama in Nairobi, Kenya, that led to the union’s creation.

By Richard Mathenge

Trigger Warning

Please be advised that this film contains descriptions of workplace violence, including sexual violence against women and children.

My name is Richard Mathenge. In this documentary, I describe the working conditions of content moderators and data annotators at the subcontracting company Sama in Nairobi, Kenya. These conditions led us to form the African Content Moderators Union to fight for our rights. I hope to enlighten the world about the work of data workers and detail the process of forming our union, which I hope can also inspire other data workers worldwide.

Many data workers in the AI supply chain are exploited and their work is never acknowledged. What is often overlooked is that without us, there is no AI. In this film, which features actual workers and their own words, I aim to show the world what really goes on behind the scenes. I also hope to show other workers in Africa and around the world that if we unite, we can collectively fight for our rights.

The experiences shared in this documentary relate to the broader issue of exploitation of workers in the Global South. We do the work and the profits, which amount to billions, end up in the Global North. The workers are used and dumped, and their lives are left worse off. For AI to be truly transformative, it is important that its development is ethical and the workers in the supply chain are treated with dignity. 

The issues of labor exploitation are serious, and sometimes people struggle to believe that companies touting themselves as ethical can be capable of such evil. Therefore, I felt that a video documentary would be the best way to tell my story and those of my colleagues whose lives were damaged by this work. As a former team leader and current member of the African Content Moderators Union, I spoke with many of my colleagues about our exploitation. For this film, I first discussed how we could tell this story at length with the team of Dr. Milagros Miceli, Dr. Adio Dinika, Krystal Kauffman, Laurenz Sachenbacher, and Camilla Wagner. Dr. Adio Dinika then traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, and helped with the interviews that make up this documentary. This film features my colleagues Mophat, Kings, and Maureen, all former Sama data workers with experience in data annotation and content moderation.

The demands outlined in the documentary aim to address the critical issues faced by data workers in the AI industry. To ensure fair and ethical AI development, tech companies must prioritize these workers‘ well-being and fair compensation. This can be achieved through transparent and inclusive recruitment practices, equal opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds, and fostering a supportive workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion. Companies should also commit to providing living wages, performance-based incentives, and transparent compensation practices that reflect the value of workers‘ contributions. Workers’ voices and demands must be considered, and unions can and should play an important role in the process. 

Increasing the opportunities for internal mobility and investing in and offering training programs and partnerships with educational institutions will equip workers with the necessary skills and opportunities for career advancement. Establishing industry-wide standards for fair labor practices, complying with government regulations, and encouraging ethical consumption will further contribute to a more sustainable and responsible AI ecosystem. By addressing these key demands, we can work towards fair A.I. development that prioritizes the well-being and fair compensation of workers engaged in foundational tasks, fostering a sustainable and ethically sound AI ecosystem.

Recommended citation:

Mathenge, R. (2024). Data Workers Organizing – The African Content Moderators Union [Videography and editing by P. Teka. Research support by A. Dinika, M. Miceli, L. Sachenbacher, C. Salim Wagner, & K. Kauffman]. Retrieved from

About the Author

Richard Mathenge

Richard Mathengue is co-founder of the Techworkers Community Africa and of the African Content Moderatos’ Union. He was born and raised in Nairobi, graduated from the African Nazarene University in public relations and has extensive experience in the customer service industry. Richard coincidentally took a different turn in his career, finding himself in the murky field of tech and AI. He was an employee at the subcontracting company Sama, where he worked as a data annotator and team lead for two years. Together with colleagues, he decided to fight for better conditions, started organizing, and got involved in forming a union, which he advocated should be an umbrella institution fighting for content moderators and tech workers in Africa. His policy in life is to leave people and places much better than he found them.

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