Belfast Telegraph

Independent party to examine Sports Direct's practices

By Staff Reporter

Sports Direct, which has eight stores in Northern Ireland, is to undertake an independent review of working practices and corporate governance, following concerns raised by shareholders.

The so-called "360 degree" review was initially to be led by the retailer's law firm RPC.

However, the Mike Ashley-owned firm said that following discussions with shareholders, including the influential Investor Forum, it "will now be led by an independent party other than RPC".

"The board made this decision after listening to shareholder feedback at the recent AGM/open day and during subsequent consultation with a number of the company's long-standing shareholders via the Investor Forum," Sports Direct said.

The Investor Forum consists of investors holding assets worth more than £14 trillion, and the move comes after independent shareholders rebelled at the retailer's AGM, with 53% opposing the re-election of chairman Keith Hellawell.

The company has faced sharp criticism over corporate governance and working practices at its warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, after it was revealed that some staff were paid below the national minimum wage.

Sports Direct has moved to address concerns by offering casual retail staff guaranteed hours instead of zero-hours contracts and ensuring all warehouse staff are paid above the national minimum wage following an initial review by RPC.

In addition, the company said that the selection process for having a workers' representative on the retailer's board would take the form of "democratic staff elections, in which it is anticipated that all staff directly engaged or employed by Sports Direct may vote".

Meanwhile, Mike Ashley said he is being "real" when he chooses to travel by helicopter, and disclosed that a cleaning lady at the company was paid an £80,000 bonus.

Speaking after the firm announced its independent review, he reiterated his apology for things that had gone wrong, but insisted there have also been positives at the retailer.

He defended his expensive method of travel, and said the Government is responsible for workers being paid the minimum wage, not him.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I do fly to work by helicopter, it's a reality. So when people say 'Oh be real', that's how I travel."

He added: "People will say, 'How can you have a plane when your workers are on minimum wage?' I said, 'But I don't set the minimum wage'.

If the minimum wage would be the living wage, then the Government who set the rules should set it at the living wage. That's as I look at it."

Sports Direct is due to open its first Belfast city centre store, at Donegall Arcade, some point later this year.

Belfast Telegraph