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Labor groups to picket Olsens

Washington Square News |  By Mary Pilon | December, 09 2004 |  Share  | Source Article

December 9, 2004

By Mary Pilon

Even Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen can't escape the scrutiny of student activists at NYU.

A student group will march today in Washington Square Park to ask that the Gallatin freshmen guarantee paid maternity leave to workers in Bangladesh who work in the factories that make their clothing line.

The NYU chapter of Students Against Sweatshops and the National Labor Committee charged that 95 percent of the women who work in Bangladeshi sweatshops for major companies - including Wal-Mart and the Olsens' Dualstar Entertainment Group - don't receive three months of maternity leave mandated by Bangladeshi law.

"I don't want my fellow students to be barraged by protesters," said Cassie Turnipseed, a CAS junior and coordinator of the event. "But we're not attacking them; it's their business."

The Olsens are reportedly worth up to $150 million each, and their company generates about $1 billion in revenue annually.

"This is not an attack against Mary-Kate and Ashley; it's an appeal," said Charlie Kernaghan, the director of the National Labor Committee. "We don't have to kid ourselves. They have power, enormous power."

Turnipseed said that students from Students Against Sweatshops attempted to contact Ashley Olsen via notes in some of her classes, but these attempts failed. The National Labor Committee said they twice tried to contact Dualstar Entertainment regarding the pledge, and received no response.

"If your intention is to get someone to sign a pledge, you would want to make a reasonable attempt to contact them," said Michael Pagnotta, a spokesman for the Olsens and Dualstar. "No one can recall seeing it, and there are a number of issues that we had to deal with in the last six months - health issues, turning 18, moving into school at New York City, the release of a big budget major film."

Nineteen garment companies have signed the pledge already, including Liz Claiborne, Levi Strauss, Costco, Phillips-Van Huesen and Sean John.

"It should be very clear that Mary-Kate and Ashley stand for workers for everywhere," Pagnotta said. "There are very rigorous standards ... they seem to indicate that there was a refusal to sign this, and that's not the case." Pagnotta added he was optimistic about reaching some kind of agreement between the labor committee and Dualstar.

Kernaghan said a Bangladeshi woman would have to work 109 years to earn enough to go to NYU, not including a meal plan or housing.

"This is the great gap in the world today," Kernaghan said. "[The Olsens] have that power, that visibility. There is so much good they could do for the world."

The candlelight march is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in Washington Square Park. Students plan to rally there and march around Greenwich Village. After the march, there will be a screening of a 30-minute film produced by the Labor Committee offering a glimpse into the world of sweatshops in Bangladesh at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South.

Pilon, Mary. "Labor groups to picket Olsens." Washington Square News. 9 Dec. 2004. College Publisher. 3 Jul. 2008 http://media.www.nyunews.com/media/storage/paper869/news/2004/12/09/UndefinedSection/Labor.Groups.To.Picket.Olsens-2388681.shtml.