Proposals to impose "ethnic quotas" on companies bidding for government work have been condemned by business groups.
Three pilot schemes under which firms would be quizzed on their attitudes towards race before receiving public sector contracts have reportedly been given the green light by Ministers.
The schemes - to be put in place at Jobcentre Plus, the Identity and Passport Service and the Department for Education and Skills - would be the first examples of "positive discrimination" adopted by the UK authorities. They are already widely used in the US.
Iqbal Wahhab, a member of the Ethnic Minority Employment Task Force which came up with the plans, said they could help to close the ethnic employment gap which sees 58 per cent of minority groups in work, compared with 75 per cent of the population as a whole.
He also claimed they would help employers in "making more enlightened recruitment decisions" but accepted they would be unpopular in certain quarters.
However, the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents UK businesses, said imposing quotas would do nothing to solve the imbalance.
Sally Low, director of policy and external affairs, said: "The way to address high unemployment in some ethnic communities is not race quotas but by equipping workers with the skills businesses need.
"Individuals should be employed based on no other criteria than their ability to do the job and whether they have significant merit compared to all other applicants."
Government said no decision had been taken to adopt proposals.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said that ministers would listen to the recommendations of the task force.