08 December 2016
Sports Direct has seen its reputation suffer after investigations into the company showed widespread exploitation of staff, but one of the company’s bosses feels this is campaigners’ fault for publicising the firm’s behaviour.
Commenting as the retailer published its half-year report, which showed a fall in profits of 25%, Chairman Keith Hellawell said the company’s problems could be attributed to an “extreme political, union and media campaign” against it.
Indeed, this year has seen astonishing reports of exploitation at the company’s workplaces, with a governmental inquiry describing conditions at the firm’s Shirebrook warehouse as more akin to a Victorian warehouse than a modern retailer. Low-wage agency workers were put under enormous pressure not to take time off work and to jump to the employer’s demands, with one story describing a female employee giving birth in a toilet because she was afraid to be off sick; a policy of deducting pay from workers that were one minute late; and workers receiving disciplinary action for getting a drink of water or using the toilet for “too long”. There have also been allegations that workers were offered promotions in exchange for sexual favours.
Following investigations by the Guardian, the BBC and the government plus widespread union campaigns to raise awareness of the conditions at Shirebrook, it is no surprise the company has earned a bad reputation among the public.
But Mr Hellawell feels like his company is actually the victim of these events. He said: “I have no doubt that the extreme political, union and media campaign waged against this company has not only damaged its reputation and influenced our customers, it has impacted negatively on the morale of our people.”
“The individuals at the heart of our organisation are blameless. They are increasingly upset and angry at the barrage of detrimental comments about the company, which in their view is unjustified,” he added.
Despite falling profits, the firm also announced its intention to purchase of a new £40 million corporate jet.