Sport Direct has “definitely outgrown me”, says founder Mike Ashley.
Facing MPs at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Ashley said he was unable to manage and control Sports Direct in the face of “repugnant and disgusting” worker experiences including sexual harassment, violence and poor health and safety.
“I didn’t build sports direct – sports direct built me,” said Ashley.
“When I started Sports Direct, it was an inflatable dinghy that you are in control and then you wake up one day and it's an oil tanker and suddenly you are also accountable for.
to manage and control it.”
Ashley admitted docking workers 15 minutes pay for being one minute late was “unreasonable and unfair”, as was failing to pay overtime.
He said the six strikes policy was “fair if implemented correctly” as is the use of a tannoy, but said the misuse and abuse of either means Sports Direct deserves “the cane if it happens”.
Ashley described 76 ambulance calls in two years from workers at Shirebrook as “excessive” and that he was “disgusted” that a female worker was offered a contract in return for sexual favours.
Ashley committed to reviewing and introducing a new management structure.
In the lengthy hearing in Westminster, a candid and animated Ashley admitted employees were paid under minimum wage in the retail outlet.
Ashley confirmed a review into Sports Direct operations “is underway and will probably never complete”.
“We carried out the review because of the media attention and it was best for me to step in. I don’t think there should ever be a timespan that you should ever commit to,” said Ashley.
Ashley said “shocking unpleasant surprises” around bottlenecks at security was a “bad day for Sports Direct” – this is where workers would spend time unpaid before and after shifts going through security checks.
“You have got to pay people for the time going through the checks, it’s just not fair otherwise,” said Ashley.
He also admitted there were “instances” where workers were paid under minimum wage.
Ashley said he “hopes” the matter has now be resolved but that he can only encourage and can’t guarantee.
“There will be the odd occasion where problems will happen butt the processes are in place to give them the capacity,” he said.
Ashley sat with a PR advisor who says he walks the floor of the warehouse “once a week”.
An investigation by the BBC found ambulances were called out to the headquarters of Sports Direct in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, 76 times in two years.
Many calls by Sports Direct workers were for “life threatening” illnesses with the BBC reporting staff who were “too scared” to take sick leave.