Sports Direct chief hits back on workers' rights

By James Sillars, Business Reporter
Sports Direct chairman, Keith Hellawell, has survived a shareholder bid to oust him from the job and used the AGM to attack the retailer's critics.
Mr Hellawell had pledged to resign unless a majority of independent shareholders supported his re-election to the post.He had twice previously been saved from the axe by chief executive Mike Ashley's own voting rights.Sports Direct said he secured that majority at the AGM, which took place at Sports Direct's controversial Shirebrook warehouse site, though almost 47% still opposed him.Mr Ashley was not in attendance. He had blamed a diary clash.Former West Yorkshire Police chief constable and government drugs tsar Mr Hellawell has faced stinging criticism of his tenure amid continuing anger over corporate governance and treatment of staff.Institutional shareholders Royal London Asset Management, Standard Life Aberdeen and Hermes Investment - along with three shareholder advisory bodies - had voiced their opposition to his reappointment ahead of the meeting.Just over a dozen investors were understood to have attended the gathering in person.
Sports Direct chief hits back on workers' rights

Mike Ashley did not attend the AGM in Derbyshire
They were greeted by a Unite union-organised demonstration over working practices and the continued use of zero-hours contracts for casual staff, despite Sports Direct previously pledging to abolish them by offering guaranteed hours to all staff.It was an issue raised by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the first Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons since the conclusion of the summer recess.Mr Hellawell defended the use of the contracts at the AGM and said staff would not want to join the company if they were unhappy with the working conditions - rejecting calls for an independent review.
He said: "We say casual workers, you say zero-hours contracts. It is still a legal form of employment in this country."While that still is a legal form of employment we will choose if we wish to continue with that form of employment."A very large proportion of our workers are happy to maintain that flexibility."
Sports Direct chief hits back on workers' rights

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Commenting on the result of the shareholder vote, Ashley Hamilton Claxton of Royal London said: "With Keith Hellawell surviving his second shareholder revolt in a year by the skin of his teeth, we believe that the board should urgently address the long list of corporate governance concerns that have been raised by independent shareholders to help restore confidence in the board."Royal London has a duty to ensure its customers' money is invested in well-run companies with the best possible future prospects.In a statement ahead of the AGM to the London Stock Exchange, Sports Direct said its profit expectations for the current financial year were on track following a 59% drop in the previous 12 months.It had blamed media coverage of the pressures facing Sports Direct and currency headwinds for that performance but remained optimistic of achieving earnings growth of up to 15%.It said the company's new generation flagship stores were exceeding sales expectations and it had taken 100% control of luxury retailer Flannels.Sports Direct shares, which were trading above 900p each three years ago, were over 2% higher on the day at 393p on Wednesday.
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