The Common Good
January 2012

Five Questions for Catherine Rowan

by Elizabeth Palmberg | January 2012

"I think it is a spiritual task to struggle with questions such as what and who we place at the center of our economy"

Bio: Consultant for member organizations of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. Website: www.iccr.org

1. How have your experiences as a Catholic Maryknoll lay missioner shaped you? They have had a profound effect. My family lived in Brazil from 1988 to 1994—years when Brazil was subject to the “structural adjustment” programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. My oldest son, who was 8 years old at the time, got it right away. After a few months living in São Paulo, he said: “Brazil has so much. Why do they have to keep sending their wealth out of the country?”

2. What are justice issues you’re working on now? We’ve all seen how unregulated banking can devastate people’s livelihoods. Inspired by our faith traditions, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) are working for an open, well-regulated global financial system that serves the needs of all—one in which banks are accountable for the risk from their business activities. We’re putting forth a shareholder proposal calling for transparency to prevent companies from dressing up their balance sheets to hide liquidity problems that could increase system-wide risk.

We’re also using our shareholder power to work with community groups to pressure Bank of America and WellsFargo to reform their mortgage modification practices and invest in communities devastated by foreclosures.

3. What are your next big priorities? With so many people in the U.S. unable to afford the medicines they need, I have been working with other ICCR members to press pharmaceutical companies about drug price increases. Increasing access to medicines is critical to preventing millions of deaths around the world. We believe companies need to find a balance between seeking profits and the moral mandate to meet public health needs.

ICCR has identified food and water as the two priority areas—for example, the impact of corporations’ water use on communities in areas of water scarcity. We are also paying a lot of attention to excessive speculation in food commodities—its role in increasing the price of food. Banks have been profiting handsomely from trading in these markets. Meanwhile, millions of people on the planet cannot afford to eat.

4. What gives you hope? There are so many people raising questions and seeking alternatives to the economic system we live in now. There is great interest in microfinance, credit unions, cooperatives, and community-supported agriculture. A number of companies are moving to see ecological sustainability and corporate responsibility as key elements of their businesses.

5. What’s one piece of spiritual economic perspective you’d like to share? Well, this is a big one: Economist Joseph Stiglitz says that the legacy of this economic crisis will be a great debate of ideas. I think it is a spiritual task to struggle with questions such as what and who we place at the center of our economy, and what needs to be done to have a sustainable future on our planet for our children and grandchildren.

—Interview by Elizabeth Palmberg

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