Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Business leaders “deeply sceptical” of Sports Direct’s workers representative election

Unions and business leaders have criticised Sports Direct‘s decision to place a workers representative on its board, branding it a “PR exercise”.

Earlier this week the sportwear retailer stated it would make good on its promise to put a worker‘s representative in the boardroom, following increasing pressure from MPs and shareholders.

Key figures have been quick to dismiss the move, questioning what change it will make.

“Given Sports Direct’s past behaviour and its refusal to involve Unite, we remain deeply sceptical about the process and whether a single unsupported representative will have a meaningful voice on a board which has been severely criticised for poor corporate governance,” union Unite‘s assistant general secretary Steve Turner said.

“Question marks remain over whether the process is one by selection or election and who will be involved or able to stand.

“The majority of the shameful practices exposed by Unite involve over 3000 agency workers at its Shirebrook warehouse.

“We remain to be convinced whether managers or supervisors directly employed by Sports Direct will actively voice the concerns of this sizeable part of the workforce should they be chosen as the worker representative.

READ MORE: Sports Direct makes good on pledge to elect workers’ representative

“If the worker is hand-picked by Sports Direct, without union support, training and confidence to speak up, then this risks being little more than a PR exercise rather than a serious attempt to right the wrongs of the past.”

The retailer, which has faced intense criticism from media, the government and its own shareholders for its poor treatment of staff members, announced the plan in a letter to its staff on Tuesday.

A worker from the company‘s 23,000 staff will be elected to represent workers on the board by the end of the year.

The representative will alernate between members of retail and warehouse staff year-on-year.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) was also critical of the deal, suggesting in a letter to The Guardian that the decision won‘t be enough to encourage any lasting change in the company.

“For real, long-lasting change for the good of all investors, customers and employees, a radical overhaul of Sports Direct‘s governance is necessary,” IoD head of corporate governance Oliver Parry wrote.

“There needs to be more independent oversight of Ashley who, because of his shareholding, effectively controls the company.

“This is not a simple question of appointing a worker to the board. At present, the board has five independent directors, four of whom have been in situ for over five years.

“Time and time again, they have failed to rein in Ashley and I fail to see how a worker could do anything more.

“Without fundamental and structural reform, a wholesale change in the behaviour of the largest sports retailer in the UK is very hard to imagine.”

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