A combination of misplaced co-employment fears and invisibility cloaks shield contingent workforce professionals from seeing the sometimes darker side of staffing — the commoditization of people. The new world order of indentured servitude. But savvy managers are catching on.

We know that, while the majority of staffing suppliers run their businesses well and live up to their mission statements of putting folks to work and affecting lives for the better, there are still those that take advantage of job seekers, especially H-1B holders or Green Card seekers.

Illegal or unreasonable contract and employment terms, unfair payment and unsafe working conditions are just a few of the problems that occur when companies forget that people are humans. When only profit matters, it’s easy to excuse the mistreatment of fellow man as “just business.”

Numerous layers. I have spoken with more than a few fellow contingent workforce managers who have been surprised a contractor was making $20 lower than we thought based on our bill rate. Still others relate stories of contractors who want to join their team, but can’t because the staffing firm made them sign a contract saying that they would work for the staffing firm for a specified number of years or face a penalty in the tens of thousands of dollars — or they couldn’t leave their position because of threat to their visa application being cancelled.

As a staffing firm owner or manager, you may be dismissing these statements as not applicable to your firm. You don’t run your business that way. But before you turn that page, I urge you to think about any subcontractors you may have — or subcontractors they might have. Are you sure these firms are on the up-and-up? Sub-contracting has become commonplace and it’s normal for businesses not to see each individual level between them and their workers. A contract is used to assume good behavior, intent and practice. The contract terms are expected to trickle down to any subcontracting companies; however, the reality is that it’s rare the initial client’s terms make it that far below or are actually adhered to.

To further complicate the issue, many companies often don’t know the subcontracting companies — or how many layers may be involved — or simply have so many that conducting thorough audits is simply not feasible.

When a company can readily deploy resources with specific and desirable skill sets, usually H-1B holders, it is often referred to as a “body shop.” These companies generally don’t work directly with the end client, but are multiple levels removed from the company that holds the relationship with the enduser. These body shops “farm” out their workers. This itself is not inherently terrible — they provide supply in a demand economy — but the long distance and multiple levels between the end client and the final subcontractor can lead to workers being taken advantage of and hide poor business practices.

Accountability. However, buyers are catching on and starting to look deeper. We’re taking steps to better understand and ensure that our partners treat their people with dignity. We are severing ties with suppliers who subcontract to these companies or participate in such practices. We’re asking for confirmation and auditing business practices.

We’re also asking that our partners — you — do the same. Know whom you work with. Trust and verify that they treat their folks with dignity, and provide living, marketable wages and safe conditions (more than that, but at least that!). We’re not against you and your subcontractors making a profit. But we are against companies that forget they are in the business of people. Of humans. Of mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends all trying to make a living. To make a life.

We’re demanding that people be treated like people. Join us.