LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has been told he could be in contempt of Parliament if he ignores a summons from lawmakers to answer questions about the treatment of workers at Britain’s biggest sportswear retailer.
The chairman of Parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, Iain Wright, said in a letter made public on Wednesday that Ashley had not responded to a request to attend parliament to answer questions, nor agreed in principle to attend.
“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,” Wright said in the letter to Ashley dated March 3.
Sports Direct has come under fire for its employment practices and a newspaper investigation last year said that 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 soccer club Newcastle United as well as 55 percent of Sports Direct’s equity, would oversee the review, the company said in December.
A spokesman for Sports Direct said that Ashley had previously invited members of the Committee to attend Shirebrook to see for themselves the company’s working practices.
“That invitation remains open,” the spokesman said. “Mike will respond to the committee’s recent letter in due course.”
Wright acknowledged Ashley’s offer to meet the committee at the Shirebrook site but said the request had been turned down because it did not comply with the lawmakers’ commitment to transparency.
Parliament can in theory order a person’s imprisonment for contempt, although its powers on contempt actions are untested in recent times, according to a government paper published in 2012.
Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by David Goodman