Today, we commemorate World Day of Social Justice and honor those across the globe who stand for the equitable access to opportunities within societies where individuals’ rights are recognized and protected. 

I have the distinct honor of leading the Social Justice work here at Cisco (even writing that gives me chills). I am as proud of my company for making such a commitment to this cause as I am of my team of colleagues, customers, suppliers, and partners that work together to make this body of work come alive. I am also struck by the need to help frame social justice in a way that resonates globally. 

Understanding social justice from a broader perspective 

Over the course of my involvement in this work, I have spent equal parts of my time doing the work and learning about social justice both as a set of practices and as an ideal. Most of my exposure to the topic had come from my own history in civil rights and political activism, life experience (there were still partially segregated school districts in my home state when I attended elementary school), and reading authors/thought leaders like Howard Zinn, David Walker, Michelle Alexander, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. duBois.  

While their writing examined social justice through an anti-racist lens, I noticed common themes as I started to look at social justice from a broader perspective.  

  • Access: all people having equal access to resources such as healthcare, education, and employment.
  • Equity: providing resources to people that are proportionate to what they need in order to thrive.
  • Participation: involving people in the decisions that govern their lives.
  • Human Rights: ensuring the civil, political, economic, cultural, and social rights of all people are protected and valued equally. 

These themes provide a framework for how we can expand our perspective around social justice. Words and their definitions matter. Framing social justice as access, equity, participation, and human rights allows us to transcend the notion that social justice is simply about race.  

Origins and early themes in social justice 

In my research, I found there were themes around social justice that go all the way back to philosophers like Plato, Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. There is also a strong current of social justice in many of the world’s major religions. 

One of the earliest thinkers in this space was Luigi Taparelli, who was an advisor to the Vatican in 1840. He believed society should not be seen as a monolith, but as a collective of different groups, all of which have rights that needed to be recognized. He is generally credited as the first to use the phrase “social justice” and saw it as an economic and class issue as opposed to a racial one. 

The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

Building on this foundation in part led to the UN Charter in 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 which focused on political, civil, social, and economic rights. As many African nations were still under colonial rule at this time, they had limited input to the Declaration.   

While this was problematic for a number of reasons, it does explain the anti-racist focus of many social justice programs and initiatives that would come later and how race played a key role in the access to those rights. The UN would start to use the term “social justice” heavily in the 1960s, and much of the work of the modern Civil Rights movement and much of the work around affirmative action and later diversity and inclusion efforts seemed to focus in this area. 

The global perspective and Cisco’s journey for social justice 

As we continue the work of social justice here at Cisco, we know that many corporations have rolled back some initiatives that were receiving support just a few years ago. This trend is happening across the globe and underpins what history has already shown us—social justice is global. 

Just as the UN believes that social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations, Cisco believes that social justice is integral to our purpose to power an inclusive future for all. 

A global perspective will inform us – and empower us – as we move forward in our social justice journey. Our focus is on access, equity, participation, and human rights. For all. 

Words matter. We can choose the ones that shape us. Inspire us. And propel us forward. We can choose to use words as an avenue to bring more people into the fold. Build new bridges. And speak from a broader perspective.  

Discover more about the United Nations World Day of Social Justice and Cisco’s Social Justice Beliefs and Actions.


Scott McGregor

Director, Social Justice Action Office

Social Impact Office