The curious saga of Mike Ashley’s potential appearance in front of MPs to discuss Sports Direct’s working practices just took another twist.
Ashley has now urged the directors of two agencies used by Sports Direct to employ temporary staff in its warehouses to appear in front of MPs from the Business, Innovation, and Skills Select Committee, despite refusing to do so himself unless certain conditions are met.
In a letter sent to directors at Transline Group and Best Connection, Ashley urges the agencies to be “open and honest” with MPs and to appear in front of the committee.
The letter, seen by the Financial Times, says: “I am writing to put on record that I encourage you to attend and to be open and honest,” adding that “Sports Direct has nothing to hide.” Business Insider has been unable to obtain a full copy of Ashley’s letter.
After months of refusals Ashley finally agreed to speak in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee about Sports Direct’s employment practices and working conditions on June 7.
However, he said his appearance would be based on one condition — that MPs from the committee would visit Sports Direct’s facility in Shirebrook, Nottinghamshire prior to the hearing, so they could see working conditions first hand. Ashley also offered MPs the use of his personal helicopter to get to Shirebrook.
MPs refused that offer, which led Ashley to say through a spokesman last week that he plans to take legal action, and that the “committee are clearly being unfair.” In his letter to the agency directors, Ashley says he is “bitterly disappointed” at the refusal, adding that he believes “the committee is only interested in creating a media circus.”
Although it is now unclear whether or not Ashley will appear in front of the BIS Committee, should he not appear, he may face prison. Politicians have the power to officially summon individuals to parliament, should they refuse to attend a committee hearing. If someone did refuse a summons, they could be held in contempt of parliament and receive a prison sentence. In practice however, this is unlikely.
Sports Direct has faced a series of employment practice scandals in the past couple of years, but should it happen, Ashley’s BIS Select Committee appearance will most likely concern allegations made in late 2015, including that the company is effectively paying workers less than minimum wage, and that some workers were so scared to take sick leave that they called ambulances to the office.
Since those allegations were first made in The Guardian newspaper, Sports Direct has committed to paying at least the minimum wage to all staff, costing the company £10 million ($14.5 million). The allegations have also destroyed Sports Direct stock over the last year, which led to it being thrown out of the FTSE 100.
Here’s how the stock looks over the last year: