Sports Direct has kick-started the process of electing a workers’ representative to its board as it bids to rebuild its battered reputation.

The retailer has come under fire over its use of zero hour contracts in stores and allegations of poor working practices at its Shirebrook warehouse – the latter of which saw its founder and chief executive Mike Ashley hauled before a parliamentary inquiry.

Ashley took the reins from Dave Forsey last year in an effort to breathe new life into the business and in a letter to staff he has confirmed plans to elect a workers’ representative to the board.

He said in the letter: “I have always believed Sports Direct to be a business that was built by the great people who work here.

“I therefore believe it is important that your voice is heard at the highest level in order to continue to make a positive difference.

“I look forward with immense pride to sitting alongside the UK’s first elected Workers’ Representative at future board meetings of Sports Direct International PLC.”

Sports Direct has opened the application process to all workers within the group, subject to certain “qualifying conditions” including how long they have served with the company.

The retailer an assessment process would be undertaken to select candidates to stand in an election, in which around 23,000 staff will be eligible to vote.

The elected workers’ representative will be invited by the board to attend and speak at all scheduled meetings, Sports Direct said.

Sports Direct plans to carry out the election process will be conducted each year.

It said it would alternate between electing a representative from its retail division in the first year, and a worker from its warehouse or head office in year two.

Sports Direct said that the representative would not become a director of the business.

A spokesman for the retailer said: “Having explored all options we believe this is the best way to ensure the Workers’ Representative is free to champion the interests of all staff.

“We see this as a major step forward in bringing about positive change.”

Sports Direct expects the elected workers’ representative to attend their first board meeting later this year.