• BIS committe chairman urges Ashley to appear before MPs
  • Sports Direct has so far avoided appearance in Parliament
  • MPs want to question Ashley on Sports Direct’s treatment of workers

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has been warned he could be in contempt of the House of Commons if he refuses to give evidence to MPs. 

Ashley has so far refused to appear before the influential Business, Innovation and Skills select committee to discuss the treatment of workers at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse, despite numerous invitations.

The committee’s desire to grill Ashley follows a string of media exposes over its employment practices, including its use of zero-hour contracts and unpaid time during “rigorous” staff searches at its Shirebrook warehouse, which meant workers were effectively paid less than the minimum wage.  

That led the Institute of Directors to brand Sports Direct a “scar on British business”.

In a strongly-worded letter to the billionaire, MP Ian Wright, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee, has warned Ashley to respond to its latest request by March 21.

Wright said: “As you will be aware, select committees do not normally need to have recourse to our formal powers to summon witnesses in order to secure attendance; refusal to attend without good reason may be considered a contempt of the House.”

Following negative media coverage last year, Ashley invited MPs to come to Sports Direct’s Shirebrook facility and claimed the coverage was an “unfair portrayal”. He also vowed to conduct his own personal review of employment practices.

However Wright said it is normal practice for the committee to meet in public at Westminster.

Wright added: “Should you fail in your reply to agree to attend on one of the dates offered to you, or a mutually convenient alternative before 1 June, the Committee reserves the right to take the matter further, including seeking the support of the House of Commons in respect of any complaint of contempt.”

Last week Sport Direct dropped out of the FTSE100 as its share price has dived more than 40% since the start of December.

Sports Direct also issued a profit warning in January after blaming poor trading conditions on the high street and unseasonable weather over Christmas.

Sports Direct has yet to respond to Retail Week’s request for comment.