Sports Direct back in firing line on workers' rights ahead of AGM

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Sports Direct has set its sights on becoming the Selfridges of sport

It comes after Royal London Asset Management, Standard Life Aberdeen and Hermes Investment Management joined a trio of shareholder advisory firms - Institutional Shareholder Services, PIRC, and Glass Lewis - who came out against Mr Hellawell's reappointment ahead of the annual general meeting (AGM).

The Sports Direct chairman, Keith Hellawell, has survived a shareholder rebellion after just over 53% of independent investors backed his re-election.

Earlier this year, Hellawell promised to step down if he did not receive the support of a majority of independent shareholders at today's AGM, after presiding over various controversies from the sportswear chain over the past year.

However, incorporating the 55% majority stake held by Chief Executive Mike Ashley, votes against Hellawell's re-election amounted to 12% on Wednesday. Ashley, who did not attend the meeting, is also the firm's chief executive.

"While that still is a legal form of employment we will choose if we wish to continue with that form of employment".

Hellawell now looks likely to continue in the role, although no announcement has been made.

The issue was raised by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, during Wednesday's prime minister's questions when he said Ashley should "honour his word" and end zero-hours contacts.

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Mr Hellawell has defended the company's decision not to take temporary staff off zero-hours contracts.

Last year Ashley was grilled by MPs over "Victorian" working conditions at the retailer's Shirebrook warehouse, before the company hosted a controversial open day at its headquarters - which saw Ashley flash a wad of £50 notes at a mock security check as part of a demonstration that was supposed to quash criticisms of workers being underpaid.

At the meeting a series of investors asked for an update on a report into the treatment of workers carried out by the company's lawyers previous year.

The union's assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: "This revelation shows it is "business as usual" at Sports Direct and casts doubt on just how honest it is about cleaning up its act".

"In the past I have had consultants come into an organisation and never been happy that it has been of benefit".

Asked if he would commit to a truly independent review, Hellawell said: "If there's a problem we address that problem and work through that problem". "There are discussions between agencies, former agencies and this company", he said.

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