Sports Direct has been accused of spying on British MPs during a visit to the retailer’s warehouse facility at Shirebrook in Derbyshire on Monday, after an employee put a hidden camera under a chair.
Members of the House of Commons’ Business Select Committee made an unannounced visit to the warehouse as part of a drive to ensure that good working practices are being upheld by CEO Mike Ashley and the rest of the company.
“We said that we would make an unannounced trip and monitor the progress,” Iain Wright, the head of the committee said, according to the Daily Telegraph. “I want to make sure that it’s not all smelling of fresh paint and we get a real impression of the company,” Wright who is Labour MP for Hartlepool in the north-east added.
MPs gave Sports Direct a one-hour warning before arriving, but during their visit, Labour MP Anna Turley was amazed to see a staff member try to hide a camera in a room where the Committee had been put to eat lunch and have a private meeting to discuss the findings of their visit.
Turley says that a woman came into the room under the pretense of bringing the MPs sandwiches, before crouching down and trying to hide a camera under a chair.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Turley told the Daily Telegraph. “I watched her put the device on the floor and when she left I said ‘bloody hell guys they are trying to record us’. It’s not James Bond, more Austin Powers.”
“It was a camera with a microphone that they had been filming us with the whole way round because they filmed every question we asked and every thing we did. They’d got the poor sandwich woman to come in and hide it,” Turley told City AM.
“I saw her trying to arrange it to get the best angle so that they could video us up at the board table and listen to what we were saying,” she added.
After the MPs raised the camera with Sports Direct, the company made a series of bizarre denials. “I was put on the phone to him [Mike Ashley] and he said ‘you must have planted it there’,” Wright told the Telegraph. “Then the PR said that it must have been there before from a previous meeting. But that is all nonsense and I said as much. the MP added.
Sports Direct did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
Allegations of harassment, abuse and illegal working practices in the Derbyshire warehouse have formed a central part of the criticism levelled against the company since a Guardian exposé caused widespread outrage last year when workers described working there as a “gulag.”
Since then UK politicians have called for major reforms to working practices and corporate governance at Sports Direct, after a damning report compared working conditions at the retailer’s warehouses to “a Victorian workhouse.”
The company has since promised to address those issues, and majority shareholder Ashley has taken over as the company’s CEO, replacing long serving boss Dave Forsey suddenly resigned in September. Earlier in that month, Ashley hosted a media open day at Shirebrook in an attempt to clarify working practices at the warehouse.