Conditions at Mike Ashley's Sports Direct akin to "Victorian workhouse"

British MPs have come down hard on the working conditions at the Newcastle owner's retailer...

Mike Ashley, Newcastle, Sports Direct,

Image: Martin Rickett / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Working conditions for Sports Direct staff have been described as "appalling" in a report by a group of British MPs.

The UK Parliament's Business Committee said a spotlight had been shone on the working practices of Sports Direct, which was "extremely disturbing".

They pointed the finger directly at founder Mike Ashley – who also owns Newcastle United – who was told he was accountable for the conditions at the firm's stores and its warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, with workers treated as "commodities" rather than human beings.

Workers at Sports Direct were not being paid the national minimum wage, and were being penalised for matters such as "taking a short break to drink water and for taking time off work when ill", the report stated.

"Serious health and safety breaches also seem to have occurred.

"For this to occur in the UK in 2016 is a serious indictment of the management at Sports Direct."

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."

The Unite union said staff at Sports Direct were suffering "pay packet robbery on an industrial scale" and that "a culture for fear oppressed these workers into silence".

Assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "If the Prime Minister is serious about tackling corporate abuse, then she should start in our workplaces by restoring security, decency and fairness to working life.

"The new powers coming to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority later this year cannot come too soon but they must also come with adequate resources.

"Rogue employers must fear the knock at the door.

"So this report is absolutely not the last word – it can only be the beginning, which is why we call upon the Government to work with us to eliminate casual, zero hours employment that has ballooned in Britain."

The MPs said evidence presented by employment agencies The Best Connection and Transline, which employ thousands of staff for Sports Direct and earn £50m a year for their services, was "woefully poor" and in some cases incorrect.

The committee said it was "deliberately misled" by Transline and gave the company two weeks to submit further evidence.

Transline disputes the claim that it provided inaccurate information.

"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," it said.

The committee's chairman, Labour MP Iain Wright, said:

"The evidence we heard points to a business whose working practices are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer.

"For this to occur in the UK in 2016 is a serious indictment of the management at Sports Direct and Mike Ashley, as the face of Sports Direct, must be held accountable for these failings.

"It's seems incredible that Mike Ashley, who visits the Shirebrook warehouse at least once a week, was unaware of these appalling practices."

The report concludes that low-cost products for customers, and the profits generated for the shareholders, come at the cost of working conditions which fall "way below acceptable standards in a modern, civilised economy".

Additional reporting from IRN