Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group today launched a charm offensive against shareholders and the City over the firm’s treatment of workers, which has previously been the subject of intense scrutiny.
Speaking at this morning’s annual general meeting, non-executive chairman David Daly said the firm’s elevation strategy, which has seen it target a high-end retail reputation, also applied to its employees.
The meeting began with a presentation by non-executive workforce director Cally Price, who was appointed to represent the views of employees, to outline her career trajectory from zero-hour shop floor staff to board member.
Frasers also urged shareholders to back its new £100m employee bonus scheme, and said it is “confident” that it can triple its share price within four years to reach the £10 target needed to unlock the payout.
The campaign to boost its reputation comes amid reports that managers were asked to work while furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme.
Shareholder advisory service Pirc recommended that investors oppose Ashley’s re-election as chief executive following the allegations.
Frasers Group, which previously went by the name of its flagship brand Sports Direct, has also faced accusations of poor working conditions at its Shirebrook factory.
“For many years we didn’t really have a strategy for the people inside our company,” Daly said.
He said the company had taken steps to “change the way we think about our people” and had conducted interviews with 150 members of staff about their experiences, with “encouraging” feedback.
Frasers will model its employee strategy on that of other sports retailers such as Nike and Adidas, he said.
Part of the elevation strategy has been to rebrand the firm as Frasers Group to encompass its other brands, which includes Flannels, House of Fraser and Jack Wills.
It is also planning to improve facilities at the Shirebrook site, which was the subject of a 2015 report that found it was operating like a “Victorian workhouse”.
Responding to the reports, first revealed by the Guardian, that Frasers had breached furlough rules, Daly said he appreciated it was a “hot topic” but said the firm was confident it had followed the rules.
“Our books are open to anyone,” he said, including HM Revenue and Customs.
Frasers declined to disclose how much money it had claimed through the jobs retention scheme.