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In December, the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) announced its choice of “Sweatshop Retailer of the Year” for 2002, based on its assessment of the positive and negative actions major retailers and brands had taken to address sweatshop abuses. It was a tight race but MSN declared both the Hudson’s Bay Company and Wal-Mart as its choices to share the coveted title.

Both companies were caught red-handed having clothes made in sweatshops in the southern African country of Lesotho. Workers reported below subsistence wages of US$50 a month, compulsory overtime stretching the workweek to over 75 hours, verbal and physical abuse and sexual harassment, locked emergency exits, and harassment and firings of union supporters.

Wal-Mart, a perennial candidate for the award, was cited for its treatment of its North American employees, as well as its contribution to the global sweatshop problem. The US federal labour board has charged Wal-Mart with illegal intimidation and harassment of employees seeking union representation. The company has even stooped to profiting from employee deaths by taking out life insurance policies on its employees, payable to the company

By popular demand, MSN is also giving you a chance to vote for the Sweatshop Retailer “People’s Choice Award.” This year’s ’distinguished’ nominees include Disney, GAP, Hudson’s Bay, Nike and Wal-Mart.

Cast your vote online at www.maquilasolidarity.org for the retailer or brand you think is most deserving. Learn more about how these retailers are linked to global sweatshops and have your say! Voting ends January 16.