Champion for workers’ rights during US visit, digital firms urge Ruto

Say US tech firms should uphold labour laws in Kenya

In Summary
  • They said agreements reached should adhere to the best principles of the Constitution of Kenya.
  • The organisations wrote to the President on behalf of hundreds of digital workers including Data Labellers, Content Moderators and Artificial Intelligence (AI) workers based in Kenya.
Signing of the framework agreement to enhance student and faculty exchange, joint research, and innovation between Kenya and US universities at Spelman College Atlanta, Georgia on May 21, 2024.
Signing of the framework agreement to enhance student and faculty exchange, joint research, and innovation between Kenya and US universities at Spelman College Atlanta, Georgia on May 21, 2024.
Image: PCS

A group of Kenyan youth-led digital organisations wants President William Ruto to advocate for workers’ rights during his engagement with U.S tech companies which have partnered with local firms.

In an open letter to the President, the youth said the government may be unaware of grave violations of human and workers’ rights by some of U.S-based tech companies and their partners locally.

They claimed the companies have been undermining local Kenyan labour laws, the country’s justice system and violating international labour standards, including the right to unionise.

“We believe that any trade-related discussions between Kenya and the US must take into account these issues and ensure that job opportunities remain tools of economic freedom and not disempowerment,” they said.

The organisations wrote to the President on behalf of hundreds of digital workers including Data Labellers, Content Moderators and Artificial Intelligence (AI) workers based in Kenya.

They included Leaders for Leaders Champion, Siasa Place, Tribeless Youth, Youth and Success, Badili Tana Initiative, Youth Agenda, Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa and Voluntary Service Overseas.

The organisations called on Ruto to ensure that any US-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) agreements include “strong mechanisms to prevent union busting by US companies in Kenya.”

“We write because we understand that your discussion with President Biden will specifically be anchored on trade, investment and technological innovation issues in which our workforce - especially our youth - has a direct and personal stake,” the letter said.

The group added that agreements committed should adhere to the best principles of the Constitution of Kenya of public participation, rule of law, transparency, accountability and open contracting.

“Ensure that any US-Kenya agreements explicitly and expressly commit to non-discrimination including in pay across gender, race, nationality,” the letter read in part.

The youth said Ruto has the power to ensure that trade partnerships not only bring mutual prosperity to the two nations but promote jobs that are decent, dignifying and socially just.

“Kenya has high levels of educated unemployment and the tech boom has created much-needed new jobs here, particularly for young people who are the majority of digital workers. We need these jobs, but not jobs at any cost,” the letter added.

The group said it is committed to pursuing and expanding opportunities for meaningful participation of young people in the civic, social and economic spheres for their own and Kenya’s benefit.

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