Mike Ashley is grilled by MPs and says he’s ‘not Father Christmas’
Sports Direct boss sounded like David Brent as he was was taken to task over allegations of poor working practices.
The boss of retail giant Sports Direct has conceded that the firm did not pay some workers the minimum wage and is now subject to investigation by HMRC.
Mike Ashley was the main witness during a lively hearing of the business select committee hearing. He was addressing MPs following a Guardian report last year that workers at the sportswear chain's warehouse had been subjected to rigorous searches and surveillance, which led to staff receiving less than the minimum wage.
Ashley confirmed that an internal review launched in the wake of the Guardian report had uncovered problems with employment practices.
"I've discovered some issues and I've hopefully addressed some of those issues. Bottlenecks at security are the main issue,” he said.
When asked whether employees were paid less than the minimum wage during this period, Ashley replied: "On that specific point, for that specific bit of time, yes."
After a follow up query, Ashley confirmed that the firm is now subject to an investigation by HMRC.
Ashley responded to a Unite official's claim that there was "arrogance and contempt" at the top of the firm's hierarchy by stating: "I’m not Father Christmas, I’m not saying I’ll make the world wonderful."
Union officials at the hearing said there was “a culture of fear” at Sports Direct’s Derbyshire distribution centre.
Luke Primarolo from the Unite union told MPs: "People are scared because they are working under a system where they know they could lose their employment at any moment.”
Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, said workers had likened the conditions to a "gulag", or "labour camp" and described the conditions as "19th century working practices".
When asked whether he was a “kind” person, Asley sought help form his media advisor sat besides him, before answering:
“Kind? I’d like to think I was kind to the right people. I’d like to think I’m kind to the genuine people. I’m not Santa Claus.”
At one point, he also appeared to admit that he had lost control of the business, telling MPs:
"I can accept the criticism of some of the things you’ve said to me today, would actually lead me to believe that it’s definitely outgrown me. That’s shocked me what you’ve said to me today.”
Ashley reluctantly agreed to appear before MPs today after the Committee summoned him earlier this year.