Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley admits review found unpleasant surprises

Mike Ashley defends Sports Direct to MPs
Mike Ashley defends Sports Direct to MPs

Witnesses: Mike Ashley, Executive Deputy Chairman, Sports Direct International

Mike Ashley has told MPs that the ongoing investigation into Sports Direct will never be completed.

He claims there is no time span for when you try to stop improving things. He has agreed with the committee that in some ways he is not the best person to carry out the review, but believes that he is the best person in the short term.

He accepts that he does not have a comprehensive expertise in HR but that he is most able to instigate changes. He admits he has discovered some unpleasant surprises during the process of the review.

He has not spoken to the trade unions, but claims he will speak to them again at the AGM. This is the only time he personally intends to speak with them.

If you clock off at 5pm at Sports Direct and are searched at the end of your day, you will not be paid for the extra time taken – but Ashley claims it does not take long and that people should flow through very quickly.

When asked to describe the culture at Sports Direct Ashley says it is a hardworking culture and that the rewards must be good. He claims to value the people above all else.

Ashley claims there are lots of surveys and secret-shopper type reviews of Sports Direct, but that he does not read the results. He claims it is better that he is presented with any red flags so that he can address them directly. 

Ashley is unsurprised when he is told that Transline's survey got replies from 45 people out of around 2,000 and suggests that it is better for him to speak to people in person. Considering the accusations that the company operates a culture of fear, this is naturally met with some scepticism. 

Some criticisms are addressed one-by-one:

  • There was a system in place that if an employee was a minute late, they would be docked for 15 minutes pay. Ashley says that, as he understands it, this has been changed. He claims he does not know who put it in place or when it started, and says he honestly does not believe it is fair. 
  • Sports Direct does not award over-time pay for working late, and this has not been rectified. 
  • He claims that criticising workers over the tannoy is a bit of a myth.

Ashley says he is "100% unaware" of a female employee who claims she was offered a full-time contract in return for sexual favours. 

When quoted the statistics for ambulance calls at Sports Direct, Ashey believes there was some over-reaction and that staff should have been sat down with a glass of water to see if they felt better.