Mike Ashley, the billionaire founder and majority shareholder of Sports Direct, has finally agreed to speak in front of UK politicians about the retailer’s employment practices.
Ashley — who has been under pressure to speak to MPs for more than two months — will speak to members of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, reports The Daily Telegraph.
But there’s a catch — he said he will only do so if members of the Committee come to see Sports Direct’s warehouse facility in Shirebrook, Derbyshire the day before.
Sports Direct did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report.
Ashley is believed to have agreed to speak to the BIS Select Committee on June 7, having offered to fly MPs to Shirebrook in his helicopter on the June 6 to see the company’s operations first hand.
According to a letter cited by the Telegraph, Ashley says that coming to Shirebrook would “have the clear benefit of allowing the Committee to see the working conditions at Shirebrook first hand. And, in the event of me being unable to answer any questions your Committee may have, making available others in real time who are in a better position to assist you.”
Inviting MPs to Sports Direct’s warehouse the day prior to the hearing is something of a compromise, as Ashley is believed to have initially wanted to face questions at Shirebrook, rather than at BIS’ chosen venue.
The agreement to speak on June 7 is a major u-turn from Ashley, who said in a rare TV interview with Sky News in mid-March that he would not speak to MPs as he believed Sports Direct was the subject of “public vilification,” calling them a “joke.”
“My current intention is that I will not attend Westminster on June 7 as I believe the proposal by Iain Wright MP (whom I have offered to meet in Shirebrook) is an abuse of the Parliamentary process,” he told Sky News.
Sports Direct has faced a series of scandals in the past couple of years, but 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 minimum wage to all staff, costing the company £10 million ($14.5 million).
In February, Ashley was also criticised by a series of major investors for treating Sports Direct like “his own personal plaything” and acting like the company’s chief executive, despite currently holding the position of vice chairman.
Ashley also took a hit last week after Newcastle United, the football club he owns, was relegated from the Premier League, something that could cost the club £100 million thanks to lost TV money.
The allegations have also cratered the stock price of Sports Direct over the last year, which led to it being thrown out of the FTSE 100: