Kenya has moved to remove a textile manufacturing company that it accused of racism and oppression from its list of textile companies that could face sanctions if the country remains on the blacklist.
The move by the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta comes as the country struggles with an economy crippled by a wave of HIV and AIDS infections.
Kenyans’ textile exports account for about 40% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Kenya’s textile companies face sanctions from the African Union, the U.S. and the European Union if they do not comply with government regulations on production, labeling and quality control.
The companies face a raft of penalties ranging from fines and jail time to closure of mills.
A spokeswoman for the International Trade Union Confederation said the Kenyan government was “moving in the right direction” but the trade unions would have to take a bigger role in enforcing the law.
“We think that it is a huge step forward and it is very welcome,” she said.
“But we must have a bigger voice.”
Kenyans, who make up about 60% of Africa’s population, were the world’s largest textile exporters until the 1980s.
Their export-driven economy was transformed by the emergence of the global textile industry in the 1970s.
Today, textile companies account for 40% to 50% of Kenya’s exports, and the industry is estimated to make about $50 billion a year.
Kenyan textile mills are often located in remote areas and have little or no government oversight.
The government of Kenyath is a key backer of the industry and is keen to maintain its position as one of Africas top textile exporter.
But the move to remove the company marks a change in the way the country looks at its textile industry, said Daniel Naidoo, an economist at the University of Kenya.
Kenyatta’s administration has previously accused the textile mills of violating government regulations and using foreign-made textiles to make cheap goods.