9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN12 Environment and Society

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Environment Decision-Making and Risk Building I, Auditório J.J. Laginha

Managing the Chemical Risks with Consumer Goods: The Dual Role and Dilemmas of Member Organisations

To manage risks in western society is increasingly seen as a process of including the public in different deliberative and/or participatory projects. This is sometimes done via representative organisations that also have a second role as gatekeepers of information flows.
This paper aims to analyse the dual role of member organisations in the management of chemical risks with consumer goods. If these organisations represent user groups, how well is this done? How well is the gatekeeper role fulfilled, and are the aims of the members transmitted? The discussion is anchored in theories on representation, deliberation and social movements addressing the first question while work on risk communication address the second. Empirically, semi-structured interviews have been conducted with representative organisations in Sweden.
Certain risks are of a character that makes widespread public participation difficult. One example is the chemical contents of consumer goods where the amount of chemicals in use, the global nature of the risks, and the lack of efficient risk assessment makes it difficult to mobilise 'ordinary citizens' to participate in managing chemical risks. Instead, public participation is mainly ensured by representation via organisations, such as environmental organisations, interest organisations or labour unions.
The 'ordinary citizens', nevertheless, are the receivers of risk information concerning the chemical contents of their consumer goods from industry, authorities, NGOs and the media. However, focusing on industry (as they have the responsibility of chemical safety, surrounded by legislation), the public is rarely communicating back directly to the industry. Instead this communication is done through representative organisations. Consequently, the representative organisation act as a gatekeeper of risk related communication to and from their members.
Hence the representative organisation's role becomes very significant in the risk management process of the chemical content in consumer goods. It could be argued that members have little direct influence on the representative organisations' agenda and that the taken-for-grantedness of the representative nature of member organisations might be overestimated. Since this representation is instrumental for ensuring a deliberative political process and purposeful risk management regarding health, environment and safety it is a question of great concern.