FACT CHECK: Has Apple Employed 23,000 Kenyans as Claimed by Ruto? (Potentially True)

February 13, 2024

On Tuesday afternoon, President William Ruto was reported to have claimed that Apple has employed 23,000 Kenyans.

While delivering a speech at the World Governments Summit in Dubai, the president informed delegates how the digital economy is offering opportunities to Kenyans. “The digital economy is delivering attractive opportunities for young people, to work for employers scattered across the world without having to leave their homes in Kenya,” he said.

President Ruto then went on to make a statement that was received with a lot of skepticism. He said that Apple CEO Tim Cook informed him last year that the Big Tech company employs about 23,000 Kenyans.

“When I visited Silicon Valley last year, Apple’s Tim Cook informed me that his company now employs about 23,000 Kenyans,” he said.

On face value, the statement seems incredibly off, owing to the fact that Apple has neither an office nor an official store in Kenya. On top of that, the company employs about 161,000 full-time employees, which would make the Kenyan number an unrealistic 14% of its total workforce.

Many found that completely bonkers, and went on to make their views known about the president’s ‘lies’.

However, upon examining the details, it is quite likely that thousands of Kenyans could be working for Apple indirectly, perhaps even without their own knowledge.

As with many Silicon Valley companies, Apple contracts 3rd party companies, who then go on to hire contractors mostly in 3rd world countries like Kenya.

With the proliferation of online jobs in Kenya, thought to be the source of livelihood for tens of thousands of Kenyans, it is possible that several thousands of them in fact do work for Apple.

Often, the dashboard presented to these workers does not reveal who the end customer is, which would make it almost impossible even for the freelancer to figure out which Big Tech they are working for indirectly.

While the iPhone maker’s CEO may have privileged information on the actual numbers, it is difficult to verify them independently as neither Apple nor its contractors release the figures publicly.

One popular online work platform used by thousands of Kenyans is Remotasks, owned by the $7 billion San Francisco start-up Scale AI.

Remotasks is a platform where freelancers sign up to train AI systems, e.g. by correctly labeling images.

It is tedious, time consuming and often low paying work. Many working on the platform earn next to nothing, but a few manage to rise to the top of the income scale, even earning a few thousand dollars a month.

Apple does not publicize the contractors it uses to train its own AI (currently under development), so it would be difficult to ascertain whether Remotasks is one of them.

Another Silicon Valley company that employs over 5,000 Kenyans is Sama, which was last year exposed by TIME for paying Kenyans less than $2 an hour to train OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Sama is also contracted by Microsoft, Google and Meta.

Several other companies employ thousands of Kenyans, either remotely via their online platforms, or physically in Nairobi offices.

Apple is famously secretive, owing to the bad press it has historically received especially for its factory conditions in China. It would therefore be quite difficult to establish which contractors they are using to train their AI, and how many if any Kenyans are involved.

Verdict: Potentially True

1. Thousands of Kenyans are not employed by Apple directly.
2. Thousands of Kenyans are potentially working for Apple indirectly, through 3rd party contractors like Sama and Remotasks.
3. Unless coming from Apple directly, it is impossible to ascertain the true number.
4. Ruto calling this kind of arrangement ’employment’ is a quite a stretch. ‘Contractors’ would be a more accurate term.
5. Most Kenyans employed for AI training do not earn a living wage. Many have even abandoned their ‘accounts’.

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