LONDON (Reuters) - Sports Direct (SPD.L) founder Mike Ashley has accused a senior MP of being “deliberately antagonistic” in pursuing him to answer questions about the treatment of workers at his company, the country’s biggest sportswear retailer.
In a letter to Iain Wright, the chairman of Parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, made public on Friday, Ashley said he was “disgusted” by Wright’s stance.
A letter from Wright to Ashley, dated March 3 and made public on Wednesday, had told Ashley he could be in contempt of Parliament if he ignored a summons from lawmakers.
Wright said Ashley had not responded to a request to attend Parliament to answer questions, nor agreed in principle to attend.
“I believe you are abusing Parliamentary procedure in an attempt to create a media circus ..., which is not in the best interests of any of the people who work at Sports Direct,” Ashley said in his letter.
Sports Direct has come under fire for its employment practices and a newspaper investigation last year said lengthy security checks of workers at its main warehouse in Shirebrook, central England, meant that some were effectively paid less than the legal minimum wage.
The company, which denied the allegations, launched a review of working conditions at the site, where many staff are supplied by agencies.
Ashley, who owns English Premier League football club Newcastle United as well as 55 percent of Sports Direct’s equity, would oversee the review, the company said in December.
Ashley repeated an invitation for Wright’s committee to visit Shirebrook and see for themselves the company’s working practices. He said the media could accompany their visit.
Wright has previously turned down the invitation because it did not comply with lawmakers’ commitment to transparency.
Parliament can in theory order a person’s imprisonment for contempt, although its powers on such actions are untested in recent times, according to a government paper published in 2012.
Shares in Sports Direct, which issued a profit warning in January, have fallen 41 percent over the last year. Last week, the firm lost its place in the FTSE 100 index of blue chip companies.
The stock was up 0.7 percent at 386.7 pence at 0935 GMT, valuing the business at about 2.3 billion pounds.
Reporting by James Davey and Paul Sandle; Editing by Mark Potter