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Sports Direct blasted over 'Victorian' working practices

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley must be held accountable for the “appalling” working conditions and practices at the retailer’s shops and at its Shirebrook warehouse, the business, innovation and skills (BIS) select committee has concluded in a report published this morning.

Committee chair Iain Wright said it would “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 report described a “disturbing picture” of working practices at Sports Direct, where Ashley remains a majority shareholder, including penalising employees for taking a short break to drink water and a “six strikes and you’re out” policy.

The report compared the conditions at Shirebrook to a “Victorian workhouse”.

The MPs heard from one worker who was promised a permanent contract in return for sexual favours, while others spoke of health and safety breaches.

A spokesman for Sports Direct said: “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.”

Ashley has said he will provide a written update into working practices at his firm by September 23 and invited MPs to visit Shirebrook at the company’s AGM on September 7.

The workers at Shirebrook are employed by two agencies, The Best Connection and Transline Group. The BIS committee said it would consider “the full implications of this type of business model in a future inquiry”.

“[We] find it irresponsible, if not reckless, that Sports Direct pays £50m to The Best Connection and Transline when these agencies do not seem to have a basic understanding of employment law and practices,” it added.

The committee also accused Transline of failing to provide clear evidence during the inquiry. It suggested the agency had “deliberately misled the committee, which could be considered a contempt of parliament” and gave it two weeks from the date of publication to explain its evidence or face further action.

A spokesman for Transline Group said: “Transline representatives attended the committee to give a transparent account of our operations at Shirebrook. No incorrect or misleading information was given, and we will respond to the committee on any and all issues raised within the report within the two week deadline stipulated. Transline remains committed to ensuring a safe working environment and fulfilling its duty of care to our employees.

He added that the firm is “supporting Sports Direct with any payment reviews and appropriate actions”.

The Best Connection declined to comment.

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