Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley 'running a modern-day sweatshop' at Sports Direct

Mike Ashley has been accused of running a 'modern-day sweatshop'.
Mike Ashley has been accused of running a 'modern-day sweatshop'.
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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is "running a modern-day sweatshop" at his Sports Direct empire, Labour has claimed - as a Cabinet minister insisted he should appear before MPs.

Mr Ashley is being threatened with being in contempt of Parliament after failing to appear in front of a committee of MPs to give evidence about the treatment of workers at the retail giant.

Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant labelled Sports Direct a "truly hideous company" and insisted MPs will "get to the truth" by forcing Mr Ashley to attend.

Commons Leader Chris Grayling added that select committees are free to bring any UK citizen before them, noting: "It should happen unequivocally."

Labour's Ian Mearns also suggested Mr Ashley should be questioned about his "terrible running" of Newcastle United, who are in the Premier League's relegation zone.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Bryant told Mr Grayling: "The Business Select Committee has written to Mike Ashley, the chief executive and major shareholder of Sports Direct, demanding that he gives evidence to the committee on his company's decidedly shady practices - which he has refused to do.

"This is a truly hideous company - 80% of staff in one warehouse are on zero-hours contracts.

"Every member of staff is subjected to a 15-minute search at the end of the day, unpaid.

"The effective hourly rate is way below the minimum wage. So of course he should be appearing before the select committee.

"Can you confirm that the House can deal with recalcitrant executives?"

Mr Bryant added the committee could order Mr Ashley to appear while the Commons could also "force him to attend".

The Labour frontbencher added: "He may be the 22nd richest man in Britain but he is running a modern-day sweatshop and this House will get to the truth."

Mr Grayling replied: "On the subject of Mike Ashley and the Business Select Committee, of course it should always be the case that if a committee of this House seeks to bring somebody who is a citizen of this country before it they should be free to do so. It should happen unequivocally."

Later in the session, Mr Mearns (Gateshead) said: "If we do get Mr Mike Ashley into this place, can we also question him about the terrible running of Newcastle United Football Club at the same time?

"I don't want to diminish the importance of the employment practices of Sports Direct, but I'm afraid to say that based on the management of Newcastle United, I don't expect a very big party in a brewery any time soon."

Mr Grayling replied: "It's tough being a Newcastle supporter at the moment. I wish you and your team well for the rest of the season. There is time to escape the relegation zone and I've no doubt you will be cheering from the stands."