Kenyan Lawyer Takes on Big Tech: Fighting for Workers Who Trained Chat GPT

In a gripping battle against corporate exploitation, Nairobi-based lawyer, Mercy Mutemi Sumbi, has risen as the fearless leader of a coalition of lawmakers fighting for justice on behalf of Kenyan workers. Their adversary? The giant tech company, OpenAI, responsible for the creation of the famed Chat GPT software.

The struggle for fairness reached new heights when the petition, spearheaded by Mercy Mutemi, was presented to the National Assembly earlier this month. As the wheels of justice turn, the petition now rests in the hands of the ICT committee, ready to bring the fight to OpenAI. Mercy Mutemi Sumbi is no stranger to the world of internet law and policy, as the Managing Partner at Nzili & Sumbi Advocates. Her expertise and dedication have earned her accolades, including being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by Nation Media Group’s Business Daily, an honor bestowed upon her for her groundbreaking work in internet governance and digital rights.

But what exactly is this battle about? The petition sheds light on the harrowing conditions endured by Kenyan workers, who were hired by Sama, previously known as Samasource, for temporary contracts. These workers were unwittingly exposed to explicit and disturbing material, including sexual and graphic violence, as part of their role in training Chat GPT. The AI needed to learn to recognize and respond to such content for its future interactions with users.

Reports from sources such as Slate,Vice News and The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) confirm that the Kenyan workers began their training duties in mid-2021, toiling for long hours, five days a week, without adequate psychological support. As a result, they developed severe mental health issues, including PTSD, paranoia, depression, and anxiety.

Mercy Mutemi Sumbi, who is active on Twitter, took to the platform on July 12th to announce the petition. She expressed her determination to bring OpenAI and Samasource to account for their exploitative practices, urging the government to take action. Pert of her impassioned plea reads,”On behalf of the young Kenyans whose lives have been ruined because they did the dirty work training the #ChatGPT algorithm, we have filed a petition to @NAssemblyKE to investigate how @OpenAI and @samasource got away with such exploitation and to urgently regulate tech work.”
Drawing attention to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Mercy explained that this unfair treatment of African youth is not new. Content moderation work and AI data labeling have previously subjected workers to similar injustices. She questioned the ethics of encouraging young people to pursue tech jobs if they were poorly compensated and left mentally scarred.

Emphasizing Kenya’s potential as a destination for Big Tech, she made it clear that exploitation would only make the country and its youth lose out in the long term. Calling for accountability and justice, Mercy firmly urged the government to take a stand against such injustice. As the battle rages on, Mercy Mutemi Sumbi’s determination and unwavering commitment to the cause resonate strongly with the Kenyan people. The outcome of this fight will not only impact the workers who endured the distressing conditions but also set a precedent for how Big Tech corporations treat workers across the globe. The eyes of the world are on Nairobi as the nation stands united against corporate injustice, ready to rewrite the narrative of exploitation.