Sports Direct has been condemned by MPs over its working practices by the Business Innovation and Skills committee. Retail Week picks out key quotes from the report.
Mike Ashley’s accountability
“It seems incredible to us that the owner, whose name is inextricably linked with the brand of Sports Direct, and who visits the warehouse at least once a week, would have no idea of the working conditions and practices there, when they have been highlighted in the media and in Parliament since 2015.”
“In a well-run company, widespread evidence of poor working practices would be detected at an early stage, reported to the board and properly addressed. This did not happen. We recommend that Mr Ashley should complement his working practices review with an independent review of his corporate governance arrangements.”
“We will be holding Mr Ashley’s feet to the fire, so as to see what progress he has made on improving working conditions for workers at his premises.” – BIS Select Committee
“We have it described to us as a gulag, as Victorian, as a workhouse, not a warehouse. We believe that there is no place for these kinds of 19th-century working practices in 21st century Britain.” – Steve Turner, assistant general secretary at Unite the Union
“Workers at Sports Direct were not being paid the national minimum wage, and were being penalised for matters such as taking a short break to drink water and for taking time off work when ill. Some say they were promised permanent contracts in exchange for sexual favours. Serious health and safety breaches also seem to have occurred. For this to occur in the UK in 2016 is a serious indictment of the management at Sports Direct.” – BIS Select Committee
“I was off sick for a few weeks because of ill health. I was sending in sick notes from the doctor. The day I was due to start back to work I received an email laying me off, with no explanation, just paid off and a pay statement.” – Sports Direct worker
“Whilst I was there, your pick was timed to the second. If your pick was late you got a strike. But when the aisles are full of other pickers, this is impossible to meet. We still had to suffer humiliation over the Tannoy, with your name called out so that everybody knew.” – Sports Direct worker
Six strikes rule
“The agencies at Shirebrook operate a “six strikes and you are out” policy. Under the rules, a strike can be given to a worker if they spend too long in the toilet or chatting, or if they take time off when they are ill or when their children are unwell.
“The “six strikes and you’re out” policy is used as a punitive measure, which denigrates the workers at Sports Direct and gives the management unreasonable and excessive powers to discipline or dismiss at will, reinforced by their power to control the hours offered to each worker.” – BIS Select Committee
Working with agencies
“The majority of agency workers are employed on contracts guaranteeing work for only 336 hours a year (that is, seven weeks’ work if the working week is 48 hours). This arrangement effectively leaves the workers on zero-hour contracts for the vast majority of the year.
“We heard no convincing reason why Sports Direct engaged the workers through agencies on short-term, temporary contracts, other than to reduce costs and pass responsibility.
“For Sports Direct to pay £50 million to agencies that do not seem to have a basic understanding of employment law and practices seems irresponsible, if not reckless.” – BIS Select Committee
“There is a contempt for employee rights. When you employ people on the sorts of contracts that they are employed on you find yourself viewing the human being as a disposable asset.” – Steve Turner
“The way the business model at Sports Direct is operated, in both the warehouse at Shirebrook and in the shops across the country, involves treating workers as commodities rather than as human beings with rights, responsibilities and aspirations.” – BIS Select Committee
“I’ve witnessed staff being made to clock out so wages aren’t over budget but they were made to keep working, so they weren’t being paid for all the hours they did. I’ve seen staff kept for an hour after their scheduled finish time to tidy the shop, myself included” – Sports Direct store worker
“We recommend that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority seriously considers looking into employment practices at Sports Direct, both in the shops and in the warehouse, to ensure that they are compliant with the relevant legislation.” – BIS Select Committee
Health and safety
“A total of 110 ambulances or paramedic cars were dispatched to the Shirebrook warehouse’s postcode between 1 January 2013 and 19 April 2016 with 50 cases classified as ’life-threatening’, including chest pain, breathing problems, convulsions, fitting and strokes, and five calls from women suffering pregnancy difficulties, including one woman who gave birth in the toilet in the warehouse.” – East Midlands Ambulance Service
“There were 115 incidents from 1 January 2010 to 19 April 2016, including an amputation of a finger, a fractured neck, a crushed hand, and hand, wrist, back and head injuries. Twelve of the incidents were listed as ’major’ injuries, with 79 injuries leading to absences from work of over seven days.” – Bolsover District Council