William Eichler 07 September 2017

Council pension funds call for review of working conditions at Sports Direct

There needs to be an independent review of worker rights and corporate governance at Sports Direct, insist local authority pension fund representatives.

Cllr Richard Greening, a representative from the Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF), attended the Sports Direct AGM yesterday where the company’s controversial chairman Keith Hellawell survived a vote to remove him.

The sports shop has faced criticism for its use of zero-hour contracts - what the union Unite described as ‘Victorian’ work practices.

At the company’s last AGM, they pledged to offer guaranteed hours to all store staff in response to a review of its working practices by City law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain. However, Sports Direct has not done this.

An analysis by Unite of Sports Direct’s job site and store fronts shows the retailer continuing to advertise for casual workers with no guaranteed hours in Sports Direct and upmarket Flannels stores across the UK.

The retailer’s job adverts, Unite found, state: ‘This role has no guaranteed hours of work, hours of work can therefore vary from week to week and, as a result, there may be weeks when no hours of work are offered.’

At yesterday’s meeting, Mr Hellawell, who has defended the use of zero-hour contracts and who has the support of the company’s founder Mike Ashley, was reelected but only with the backing of 53% of independent shareholders.

LAPFF, whose executive committee member, Jane Firth, attended the AGM last year, says it has not been satisfied with progress made by Sports Direct over the last year in relation to either working conditions or corporate governance at the Company.

Commenting on yesterday’s vote, Kieran Quinn, chairman of Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, said: ‘LAPFF notes that Mr Hellawell has received support from a small majority of independent shareholders.

‘However, the result reflects the continuing level of discontent with his performance, perhaps reflecting only the departure of a significant opposing shareholder.

‘Therefore, the Forum hopes Mr Hellawell and the rest of the board will not take this result as a strong endorsement of the status quo and that he will voluntarily resign to make way for a chairman more able to respond to investor concerns.

‘We hope such a chairman would support an independent review of working conditions and corporate governance at Sports Direct.’

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