President Joe Biden's administration promised Thursday to engage systematically overseas with workers, as its plans for a new Asia trade pact met opposition from labor activists.
In a memorandum as he took part in an Asia-Pacific summit in San Francisco, Biden for the first time formally instructed US ambassadors and other diplomats to "directly engage in labor diplomacy and enhancing programming and public messaging on workers' and labor rights."
Presenting the strategy in front of union members at a San Francisco hotel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken credited US diplomacy as having real results on labor rights, pointing as an example to Bangladeshi garment worker who faced threats until US intervention.
"We believe that every worker deserves to have their rights and dignity respected," Blinken said.
"This is not simply a domestic issue. It is for us a matter of national security, a matter of foreign policy," he said.
The strategy comes a week after the State Department, in an unusual public move, urged Bangladesh to revisit a decision on its minimum wage after protests by garment workers that have drawn police violence.
The US has been wracked by labor unrest this year, with sometimes-lengthy collective action causing disruption -- but earning significant pay rises -- in industries ranging from healthcare to Hollywood.
Biden throughout his career has championed labor unions and in September made history as the first president to join a picket line as he visited striking autoworkers in Michigan.
But he has faced criticism from Democratic allies as he pursues a trade deal across Asia called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) on which he hoped to show progress at APEC.
Meant to solidify US ties with Asian allies with China on the sidelines, IPEF would set common business standards but falls short of a traditional trade deal by not giving market access.
Nonetheless, Senator Sherrod Brown, a union-friendly Democrat from battleground Ohio who faces reelection next year, vowed to oppose IPEF unless Biden removed the entire plank on trade.