After grilling Mike Ashley about Sports Direct working practices, is it fair for MPs to demand business leaders account for themselves before Parliament?

Sports Direct Founder Faces Commons Select Committee Over Working Conditions
Mike Ashley originally called the committee a joke, before agreeing to answer questions before MPs (Source: Getty)

Ioannis Ioannou, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School, says Yes.

Yes, it is fair. To the extent that Parliament acts in good will to protect the long-term interests of society at large (as opposed to serving short-term political objectives), demanding transparency and accountability from companies that have a material impact on societal issues is a step in the right direction. Accountability in front of MPs, the elected representatives of the people, generates a strong public signal of institutional commitment towards corporate responsibility. Looking to the future, it could also make companies think twice when developing their strategy, particularly those that fail to account for potentially harmful societal impacts, negative environmental externalities, or failures to even comply with existing laws and regulations. Importantly, however, this type of public accountability could help companies themselves restore trust – but only to the extent that they are willing to honestly and genuinely engage with the process.

Tim Worstall, senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute and author of Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts, says No.

That Mike Ashley should explain something to MPs is just fine: who knows, he might even have shouted some sense into them. That Ashley was actually being asked to explain himself to them was not fine. For of course, no-one expected any explaining to be done. This was an opportunity for MPs to get on TV while berating people, and no more. The original allegations were that working in a repacking warehouse isn’t that much fun. I’m unconvinced of the value of anyone having to explain that to politicians. Surely anyone capable of finding Westminster would know that already? There is one hope, though, which is that one day a proper plain speaker will be asked one of those idiot questions. When Margaret Hodge was berating Google, how we all longed for the “so why have you been voting for these tax laws we haven’t broken for 21 years then, Margaret?”

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