The Church of England has taken aim at sportswear retailer Sports Direct over its historic corporate governance issues as well as the lack of women on its board.
According to the Press Association, the Church Commissioners who manage the institution’s £8 billion investment funds and holds a minority stake in the retailer, stated its disapproval of various issues in a string of letters.
These were reportedly sent while a stream of controversies plagued the retailer over 2016 and 2017, including Ashley being dragged before MPs to be grilled over paying workers less than minimum wage.
The Church’s critical standpoint has previously been made apparent more publicly on other occasions, having voted against both Ashley and chairman Keith Hellawell’s reappointment at last year’s annual general meeting.
It also voted against the controversial proposal to pay out £11 million to Ashley’s brother and ex-sports direct IT director John, as well as pledging support for an independent review of working practices.
This falls in line with the Church’s responsible investment policy, which ensures it works with companies to improve social, governance and environmental issues.
Recently it has also expressed concerns about the retailer having no women on its board, threatening to toughen its stance if something is not done soon.
In response, a spokesperson for Sports Direct said: “The board received backing from a majority of independent shareholders at the AGM in September 2017, at which many of these historic issues were addressed.
“We note that under its 2018 voting policy the Church will not back members of nomination committees where less than 25 per cent of the board are women.
“We recognise the value and need for female representation on the board, and we are taking steps to address this.
“We recently disclosed to the Hampton-Alexander review that women make up 35.1 per cent of our senior executive team, which is ahead of target and compares with the Church of England, where we understand that around 10 per cent of bishops are female.”