Mike Ashley, the owner of the controversial retailer based in Shirebrook, Sports Direct, has been threatened with legal action after avoiding a parliament probe.
The company boss and founder faces questions after a major investigation found thousands of Shirebrook workers were effectively being paid under minimum wage, but critics say he has managed to avoid going before a select committee.
Mr Ashley, 51, who is worth around £5 billion and also owns Newcastle United Football Club has been pressured to speak before MPs and give evidence on his company's treatment of workers, but after failing to meet an invitation a select committee has threatened legal action.
Iain Wright, the chairman of the business, innovation and skills (BIS) committee, said in a letter to Mr Ashley: “A number of alternative dates have been offered to you by the committee clerk, but as yet you have not accepted any of them, nor agreed in principle to attend. As you will be aware, select committees do not normally need to have recourse to our formal powers to summon witnesses in order to secure attendance; refusal to attend without good reason may be considered a contempt of the house.
“Should you fail in your reply to agree to attend on one of the dates offered to you, or a mutually convenient alternative before 1 June, the committee reserves the right to take the matter further, including seeking the support of the House of Commons in respect of any complaint of contempt.”
The move follows reports that the company used 'Dickensian' workplace practices, forcing workers to undertake invasive searches on the way out of the building and drove many to suffer with illnesses as they were too afraid to take time off, said witnesses.
Mr Ashley has previously turned down the summon to give evidence before the House of Commons, by instead inviting MPs to come and visit the site.
MPs turned down the invitation in the interest of transparency and still await his attendance to be interviewed in public.
We asked Sports Direct:
- After being called out for not appearing before MPs, does Mr Ashley intend to deliver evidence to parliament on working practices within Sports Direct?
- Am I right in believing that the company does not deny claims made by the Guardian that workers were receiving less than minimum wage, as per an earlier statement that he would be bringing up wages? Can you update me on how this has developed please?
- Has the threat of contempt of parliament provoked him to make a more forthcoming response to the situation?
- Is it that he cannot deliver evidence of good working conditions at Sports Direct because there isn't any?
The company responded: "Mike Ashley has previously invited members of the Committee to attend Shirebrook in order to see for themselves the Company's working practices. That invitation remains open. Mike will respond to the Committee's recent letter in due course."