Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct, has once again been criticised due to the inadequate working conditions that his staff are subject to. This is not the first time that 51 year old Ashley has been publically criticised for the malpractice at his multibillion dollar company. Ashley received a barrage of criticism from the press in 2015 for the ‘Dickensian’ working practices in place at Sports Direct. An investigation into practices at the Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire revealed how the staff, 80% of whom were on zero hour contracts, were treated ‘without dignity or respect’.
A recent report by Iain Wright, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills committee, shows that the scrutiny Ashley has been under has done little to change the culture of inadequate working conditions and mistreatment present at the sports retailer.
Wright’s report details the ‘extremely disturbing’ working practices at Sports Direct, perhaps the most striking examples being the company’s failure to provide its staff with the national minimum wage and the disrespectful and undignified way in which staff are treated. The Shirebrook warehouse was once again highlighted as a location where particularly striking examples of staff mistreatment took place, with the Telegraph even reporting the birth of child in a warehouse toilet.
The ‘Six Strike’ policy in place at Sports Direct is cited in Iain Wright’s report as another example of how the staff are mistreated. According to the report, penalisations can be incurred for the slightest of misdemeanours, chattiness and toilet breaks deemed ‘excessively long’ being just two of many. After six of these strikes, as the name of the policy suggests, the employee is dismissed.
Mike Ashley, who reportedly visits the warehouse at least once a week, has persistently ignored calls from both the mainstream media and Unions such as Unite to address the problems that are present throughout Sports Direct.
However, in a week which has seen Sports Direct share prices increase by 15% and put the company in the strongest position that it has been in for several years, it is doubtful that Ashley’s priority will be dealing with issues over staff.
Speaking for the first time after being confirmed as the new Prime Minister, Theresa May insisted she intends to work towards ‘A vision of a country that works not for the privileged few but works for every one of us’. But in a society where companies such as Sports Direct can be criticised for commoditising their staff and reap the huge financial benefits of success on the stock market in the same week, can less affluent, lower paid workers in the UK really be expected to take any solace, or invest any hope, in the words of the new Conservative Prime Minister?
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