Crossroads: Where business and ethics meet

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Rosa Zapata, News Editor

When senior Illinois Wesleyan University student Helen Hoang decided for the 2015 fall semester to take on a marketing project to boost sales at a local business, she also took on the task of spreading a message.

It began when Hoang’s professor, Fred Hoyt, came up with an idea where IWU marketing students could get hands-on experience in the field of marketing.

The premise of this project was to “help a local business and give our students experience working with a business,” Hoyt said.

In Hoang’s case, she chose to work with Crossroads Handcrafts of the World, a fair trade store located in downtown Bloomington.

“Last year, I was in a marketing class that worked with a bunch of local businesses in Bloomington. One of them was Crossroads Handcrafts of the World, which is a fair trade company,” Hoang said. “When I went there, I immediately knew I wanted to work with them. So, we formed a team of students, and we talked to the Crossroads staff to see what they felt they needed to work on. They said they had tried selling apparel once, but it didn’t really work out well. So, my team and I began researching fair trade clothing items that would pull in more consumers. We brought in things like cardigans and t-shirts, which did really well.”

Hoang believes the idea of fair trade is “incredibly important.”

“A lot of products that American consumers purchase are produced by companies that pay their workers hardly anything, fail to address unsafe working conditions and harm the environment,” Hoang said.

With over 80 volunteers and 27 years into the business, Crossroads Handcrafts of the World is proof that fair trade companies can flourish. But it is not always easy.

“With fair trade it’s tricky to pull in a lot of people because, typically, it’s expensive. Because the workers get proper compensation for their labor, it racks up the prices on the item, but that’s why it’s important to make sure people know what fair trade is. I think if people know and understand why a certain fair trade product is more expensive, they are much more willing to pay for it,” Hoang said.

Since the majority of U.S. companies employ outsourcing, the business strategy of relocating factories to other countries where the minimum wage is much lower than the one in the U.S., fair trade companies do not get much attention.

When Crossroads volunteer Mary Beth Taylor began working at Crossroads Handcrafts of the World, she only had a rough idea of what fair trade meant.

“All I knew is that it was a shop that made sure fair wages were paid for the products, but I didn’t know a lot. Ever since working at Crossroads, I’ve learned so much,” Taylor said. “The products sold at Crossroads are usually made through cooperatives, which ensure that each worker has a voice. Fair trade is about creating safe working conditions for the workers, as well as paying them the wage they deserve.”

Renee Warren, the manager of the store, said, “Crossroads gives shoppers the opportunity to purchase goods that are handmade and unique from developing countries around the world as well as the United States. Each purchase makes a difference in the lives of many women and their children. Earning sustainable wages creates stability and community.”

Products sold at Crossroads Handcrafts of the World include coasters made out of recycled newspapers from the Philippines, fair trade honey, handmade jewelry from around the world and much more.