Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are presumably very busy studying as freshmen at New York University, but they found time on Thursday to avert a PR embarrassment that threatened to make the mini-moguls look like exploiters of Third World sweatshop labor. The National Labor Committee, the same group that shamed Kathie Lee Gifford eight years ago, published an open letter on Wednesday saying that DualStar, the 18-year-old actresses' company, had been unresponsive to its request to release the names of factories in Bangladesh where the Olsens' line of Wal-Mart clothing is made. The NLC, concerned that the factories may be illegally denying paid maternity leave to their female employees, had scheduled a protest rally on Thursday in Manhattan's Washington Square Park, near the NYU campus. But a last-minute missive from the Olsens pledging their support on the issue kept the protest from taking place.
Michael Pagnotta, the sisters' publicist, told People that the twins had never received the NLC's earlier missives. Once they heard about the NLC's complaint, they were quick to issue a statement saying that their clothing manufacturers ''are required to comply with the most rigorous health and safety standards in the retail industry.'' They also signed an NLC-drafted pledge saying that, ''to the best of our abilities, we will guarantee that any woman sewing our garments in Bangladesh will be afforded her legal maternity leave of at least three months with full pay.''