Shareholders rage at Sports Direct boss Ashley

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Shirebrook-based Sports Direct has heard from angry shareholders at its meeting with investors, despite the company’s pledge to improve working conditions.

Major investors believe founder Mike Ashley, who still owns 55 per cent of the retail giant, holds too much control.

They moved to depose chairman Keith Hellawell, but Mr Ashley and the board are standing firm in their backing for Mr Hellawell.

The animated meeting saw shareholders at one point corner Mr Ashley.

Standard Life, the biggest shareholder after Mr Ashley, said it has voted against the company on several issues at the meeting, including executive pay.

Standard Life’s Euan Stirling said it had engaged with Sports Direct’s board “over many years, sadly to little effect. The responses to our enquiries have been either unconvincing or non-existent.”

One of the chief causes of concern was over the company’s employment practices of paying its staff less than the legal, minimum wage.

There had been reports that Sports Direct had since refunded these workers £1m in underpayments.

But Mr Hellawell said at the meeting that they had in fact received “much less” than that.

He said the firm was trying to trace affected workers, some of who had “moved on”.

Yesterday the company formally apologised for the ‘Victorian’ working conditions it had employed - including its draconian practices of strip-searching staff and its controversial ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy.

The Chad first exposed the dire conditions at the Shirebrook warehouse two years ago, after a migrant worker gave birth in the company toilets on New Year’s Day because she was too scared of losing her job to ask to go home.

Chad’s investigation was later followed up by the BBC and the Guardian Newspaper, which eventually led to a Parliamentary enquiry.

Full report coming soon.