Big Story 10

Sports Direct to order independent review of working practices

A man cycles past a Sports Direct store on Oxford Street in London July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

LONDON (Reuters) - British retailer Sports Direct said it will order an independent inquiry into its working practices and corporate governance, responding to demand from some shareholders as it seeks to repair its battered image.

The 450-store sportswear chain, founded and controlled by billionaire Mike Ashley, was earlier this year condemned by politicians for effectively paying workers less than the minimum wage, and by shareholders for poor corporate governance.

Sports Direct said on Tuesday that having talked to shareholders, who had said it was not appropriate for the firm’s lawyers RPC to investigate its practices, it decided that a separate independent party would lead a review.

Shares in the company gained 3 percent to 290 pence by 0952 GMT, having halved in value since the beginning of 2016 due to a series of profit warnings and negative publicity over the way staff were treated.

Some investors have for years called on the company to improve its governance, voting against the chairman and the group’s pay packages.

Aberdeen Asset Management, which owns 0.4 percent of Sports Direct, said an independent review was a positive step.

“It is a welcome and much-needed sign that the Board and Sports Direct’s management are listening to independent shareholders,” Aberdeen’s head of corporate governance, Paul Lee, said on Tuesday.

“There is much more work to be done but hopefully today is the first step on the long journey to rebuild investor trust and to rectify the problems at Sports Direct.”

Sports Direct published findings from RPC’s initial review into its practices earlier this month.

Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Kate Holton and Louise Heavens