KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 – The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) last week announced its purchase of scandal-hit Shirebrook warehouse owned by Sports Direct in Derbyshire for £120m. The deal between Sports Direct and EPF-owned Kwasa Logix Sportivo will see Sports Direct taking a 15-year lease on the property.
“This investment is an opportunity for the EPF to generate an assured income stream matching our risk return profile.
“In line with EPF’s investment policies, comprehensive due diligence and robust governance standards were followed in completing the purchase of the logistics asset.
“This deal will complement and form part of the EPF’s UK real property portfolio,” EPF said.
It seems EPF will be housing a company that has been compared to a ‘gulag’, a forced-labour camp.
Shirebrook warehouse compared to ‘gulag’ or ‘Victorian workhouse’
Allegations of harassment, abuse and illegal working practices in the Derbyshire warehouse have formed a central part of the criticism leveled against the company since a Guardian exposé caused widespread outrage last year when workers described working there as a “gulag.”
In 2016, Mike Ashley, founder of Sports Direct was grilled by a Commons select committee about conditions at his sportswear chain’s warehouse.
He even admitted that staff got less than the minimum wage and were fined for being late — as he was accused of running a “gulag” labour camp.
“A woman scared of taking time off work even gave birth in the toilets, shocked MPs were told.
“Staff could be sacked for taking days off to look after sick children, chatting too much or spending too long in the toilet in a “six strikes and you’re out of work” regime.
“Workers without bank accounts had wages paid by a debit card system which cost them at least £10 a month, the hearing was told.” – The Sun
Ashley refused to invest in technology, focused on ‘cheap labor’
In November 2015, the Guardian placed two undercover reporters inside the Shirebrook warehouse, as well as speaking to scores of current and past Sports Direct workers.
The story that emerged shows Ashley refusing to increase productivity by investing in new technology. He believes productivity gains promised by the new technology are non-existent unless you know what products your warehouse will be handling years in advance.
Instead, he focuses on building a retail machine whose cogs almost entirely consist of people: cheap people, typically from eastern Europe, who understand little, if any, English.
To accommodate them, all signs and announcements inside the building are made in Polish as well as English.
The Times (UK News) indirectly compared Mike Ashley to Korea’s Kim Jong Un
“He’s the supreme leader. He’s in charge of what many regard as a rogue institution. His inner circle is packed with family members and toadies. He routinely flouts the norms of good behaviour and sticks two fingers up at his critics. He’s a relative lightweight, but has run circles around his much more powerful enemies.
“Apart from that, and a common rotundity, there is no similarity between Mike Ashley and Kim Jong-un. Mr Ashley has no nuclear missiles and doesn’t go around having people assassinated.
“But in corporate terms, the Sports Direct International founder and chief executive seems nevertheless to have been just as successful as the North Korean supreme leader…” wrote one Patrick Hosking in an opinion piece in The Times (UK)
Ashley complained to press regulator Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) about the article. While IPSO sided with him one of the complaints, they didn’t find anything wrong about the comparison to Kim Jong Un, but considered that it was a matter of comment and interpretation.
Interestingly, the company did not deny or confirm the allegation of ‘unsafe’ factory conditions at Top Glove where limbs had been lost in accidents, which suggest that the allegation may not be baseless.
The company admitted that excessive overtime is their main concern and in what seemed to be a staged PR exercise, Minister of Human Resource, M Kulasegaran was quick to defend Top Glove against the allegation.