Biodiversity and Ethical Business

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Late lessons for business: Why did industry not respond with precaution to early warnings?

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Abstract: In the past, companies have frequently neglected early warning signals indicating that their products or operations involve potential hazards for human health or the environment. We review and analyze relevant interdisciplinary literature and prominent case studies - in particular those documented in Late Lessons from Early Warnings (EEA, 2001) - with the objective to better understand business decisions in the face of early warnings. We show that economic motives were driving non-precautionary decisions, but that they were supported by a complex mix of epistemological, regulatory, cultural, and psychological aspects. We provide a set of lessons and reflections that may promote more precautionary business decision making.

Introduction

Late Lessons from Early Warnings (EEA, 2001) provides evidence of prominent cases in which early warning signals about potential hazards from the use of commercial products or operations have been neglected over long periods of time, eventually with grave consequences for human health and the environment. While the volume derives lessons which focus (...)