Sports Direct Mike Ashley Marketing

MPs will “hold Mike Ashley's feet to the fire” after shocking practices at Sports Direct exposed


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

July 22, 2016 | 4 min read

A warehouse worker gave birth in a toilet as she was too afraid to take time off and risk losing her job while staff elsewhere were promised permanent contracts in exchange for sexual favours – these are just some of the experiences of Sports Direct workers revealed to MPs by Union officials as the employment practices of the sports retailer were investigated.

Sports direct

Sports Direct

A report by the Business, Innovation and Skills committee, published today (22 July) found that founder Mike Ashley will be held to account for the “appalling practices” uncovered during the investigation.

Whilst its powers are limited, the committee will “continue to hold Mr Ashley’s feet to the fire, in as constructive a manner as possible, checking on the progress he makes on improving working conditions for workers at his premises”.

The parliamentary investigation into Sport Direct was launched on the back of a Guardian expose last year which revealed how the sports retailer was effectively paying its staff below minimum wages.

Ashley refused to attend parliament and had to “"be brought kicking and screaming to answer the committee's questions,” it said.

Speaking on behalf of the committee, chairman Iain Wright described Sports Direct's working practices as “closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer" and said workers are treated like “commodities rather than human beings".

"It seems incredible that Mike Ashley, who visits the warehouse at least once a week, was unaware of these appalling practices," Wright said.

"This suggests Mr Ashley was turning a blind eye to conditions at Sports Direct in the interests of maximising profits or that there are serious corporate governance failings which left him out of the loop in spite of all the evidence.”

Among the practices criticised was the ‘six strikes’ policy whereby employees can be sacked if they receive six black marks over a six-month period. MPs said it “gave the management unreasonable and excessive powers to discipline or dismiss at will”.

It also found there was “no convincing reason” for more than 3,000 warehouse workers to be on short-term, temporary contracts, “other than to reduce costs and pass responsibility”.

Ashley has claimed that a review into the working practices is already underway and a written update will be filed by in the coming months.

Sports Direct said in a statement: "We will study the contents of the committee's report very carefully. It is our policy to treat all our people with dignity and respect. We are pleased to see that the committee has recognised Mike Ashley's commitment to engage in addressing any shortcomings in the working practices at Sports Direct."

However, the damage may have already been done with Sports Direct posting a lacklustre set of annual results earlier this month. Revenue may have increased by 0.6 per cent, but underlying pre-tax profit decreased by 8.4 per cent to £257.2m for the 12-month period, which was, in the retailer’s own words, “disappointing”.

In response to the report, Nick Gray, managing director at shopper marketing agency Live & Breathe said: “It’s only right that Mike Ashley stands up and faces questioning over poor working practices. Business success starts with your employees and ends with your customers and only happy staff can truly make customers happy. Currently Sports Direct is failing at the first and the in-store experience isn’t up to much either.

"These are testing times ahead for the retailer. Mike Ashley and his board need to go back to grass roots and decide what they want Sports Direct to stand for – both as a brand and business – and restore faith among staff, both behind the scenes and in-store.

"There’s bound to be a degree of collateral damage – even staff that aren’t directly affected could well lose respect for their employer. Sports Direct then needs to address the state of his stores and deliver a value position worth investing in – one which our high streets need.”

Sports Direct Mike Ashley Marketing

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