Sports Direct chief has ‘nothing to hide’ at work practices grilling by MPs

Mike Ashley.

Mike Ashley. - Credit: PA

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has insisted he has “nothing to hide” at a showdown with MPs over the retailers’ work practices.

In a letter to the firm’s 27,000 workers, Mr Ashley admitted there had been issues with security and search processes at the company’s main warehouse in Derbyshire, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Founder and deputy chairman of the retailer, Mr Ashley revealed that chief executive Dave Forsey will not be taking a four-year share bonus, worth as much as £4m, the newspaper said.

“This has been a difficult year for the company,” the letter states, as Mr Ashley thanks employees for their “hard work” at a “challenging time”.

Mr Ashley tells staff he has agreed to appear before a committee of MPs to “defend the good name of Sports Direct and all of yourselves. Because I have always believed that we have nothing to hide.”

Mr Ashley, who was facing a Parliamentary summons if he refused to attend, said in a separate letter to Business, Innovation and Skills Committee chairman Iain Wright, that he had decided a “lengthy legal battle would be of no benefit to either of us”.

The Newcastle United boss insisted he had been “open and honest” at every stage of the process.

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MPs took the unusual move to summon Mr Ashley in March after he refused previous invitations on the grounds that he would not “stand idle” while Sports Direct was “subjected to public vilification”.

The committee said it wants to examine working practices at the businessman’s Shirebrook warehouse, including reports of poor working conditions and the use of controversial zero-hours contracts.

Mr Wright said the MPs would probe allegations that Sports Direct was breaking the law.

“In terms of the minimum wage rates, I don’t believe Sports Direct have been against the law. Having said that, there are allegations of having searches that last up to 15 minutes for which staff are unpaid and that would drop them below the minimum wage rate, so in that respect, yes, there are allegations that he could be breaking the law, and we want to press him on that too.

“And there’s nothing wrong with ‘pile them high and sell them cheap’, and there is nothing wrong with shoppers getting a bargain, but I think it’s really keen that that’s not done through exploitation of workers,” the committee chairman told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Mr Wright said the committee was looking at the wider picture of modern working conditions across Britain.

“Britain in 2016 - do we want to see a return to Victorian working practices where, you know, the mill owner throws coins down and says ‘Scrap for that’?

“I don’t think anybody should go to work and be exploited, I think there should be dignity, I think there should be appropriate working conditions, that people have fought long and hard for for centuries and we want to see whether that’s applying in Sports Direct,” Mr Wright said.