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The retailer Sports Direct has announced plans to have a representative from the shop floor attend board meetings after coming under fire by politicians for working conditions in its warehouses.

The company said it would hold an election for a “workers’ representative” to attend its board meetings and champion the interests of staff.

About 23,000 staff will be able to vote and whoever is elected will serve for one year. Qualifying criteria for candidates will include length of service and the representative will be chosen from retail staff, and warehouse or head office staff in alternating years. The company said whoever is elected will not become a director since this might constrain their ability to fulfil the role.

The move comes after a scathing report last year from Iain Wright, chairman of the business select committee, accusing Sports Direct of employing ‘Victorian workhouse techniques’ that it claimed could result in workers being fired for spending too long in the toilet or taking time off work when their children were ill.

Mike Ashley, chief executive, said:

I have always believed Sports Direct to be a business that was built by the great people who work here. I therefore believe it is important that your voice is heard at the highest level in order to continue to make a positive difference. I look forward with immense pride to sitting alongside the UK’s first elected Workers’ Representative at future board meetings of Sports Direct International plc.

A spokesman for Sports Direct said: “Having explored all options we believe this is the best way to ensure the Workers’ Representative is free to champion the interests of all staff. We see this as a major step forward in bringing about positive change.”

The plan is for the representative to attend their first board meeting in the Spring.

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