Cocoa beans
Cocoa beans (Photo: Chad Zuber/iStockphoto.com.)

As holiday shoppers eye chocolate bunnies and other sweets this week, a former top lobbyist for Nestlé USA Inc. is focusing her attention on an agreement the candy company signed to reduce child labor in the cocoa industry.

Nestlé has deployed its former vice president of government relations, Louise Hilsen, now at Kelley Drye & Warren, to lobby on a U.S. Department of Labor initiative to help carry out a 13-year-old pact between chocolate makers to decrease child labor in cocoa farming in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, according to a lobbying registration report filed with Congress on Thursday. The paperwork doesn’t elaborate on what Nestlé is looking to see in the implementation of the Department of Labor’s “Framework of Action” for the ” Harkin-Engel Protocol.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who are leading voices in Congress against child labor at west African cocoa farms, worked with Nestlé, The Hershey Co., Mars Inc. and other chocolate makers to develop the protocol, which the companies signed in 2001. In 2010, the Department of Labor, along with chocolate makers, the Ivory Coast and Ghana, signed a declaration that included a framework for efforts to fight child labor. The plan calls on companies to help provide sustainable jobs for households of children and to work to ensure that their employees don’t buy cocoa from sources that use child labor.

Neither Hilsen, a senior adviser at Kelley Drye, nor a Nestlé representative was immediately available for comment.

In 2012, the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit workers’ rights organization, found instances of child labor used in the production of cocoa found in Nestlé products, despite efforts by the company to discourage the practice. After the release of the group’s findings, Nestlé announced a new plan to try to reduce child labor. Nestlé said it would take steps that include “robust monitoring” of labor conditions in west Africa and working more closely with suppliers to ensure that they understand the problem with child labor, according to a company website.

“The use of child labour in our cocoa supply chain goes against everything we stand for,” José Lopez, Nestlé’s executive vice president for operations, said in a written statement in 2012. “As the FLA report makes clear, no company sourcing cocoa from [the Ivory Coast] can guarantee that it doesn’t happen, but what we can say is that tackling child labour is a top priority for our company.”

Nestlé spent about $350,000 during the first quarter of this year to lobby on a variety of issues, including child labor matters, according to congressional records. For its lobbying efforts, the company used its own staffers, as well as lobbyists at firms that included ML Strategies and The Roth Group.

Contact Andrew Ramonas at aramonas@alm.com. On Twitter: @andrewramonas.