Calls to eject Mike Ashley from Sports Direct board

Royal London Asset Management said it would vote against Mr Ashley’s re-election as deputy chairman

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The Independent Online

The Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has come under attack from one of Britain’s biggest pension fund managers over accusations that the billionaire tracksuit mogul failed to show up at four board meetings last year.

Royal London Asset Management (RLAM), which manages about £83bn of pension assets for UK savers, said it would vote against Mr Ashley’s re-election to the board of the sportswear retailer in his role as deputy chairman.

It also plans to vote against the company’s chairman, Keith Hellawell, and a phalanx of non-executive directors up for re-election.

Ashley Hamilton Claxton, RLAM’s corporate governance chief, said: “We have lost confidence in the board and are very concerned about the long list of corporate governance failings that have not been addressed.”

The fund manager, which owns £8.3m worth of shares in Sports Direct, or 0.06 per cent of the group, joins a growing chorus of investors who are set to vote against key planks of the company’s policies at its annual meeting tomorrow.

The investor consultancy Pirc, which recommends how shareholders should vote on corporate governance issues, has also told shareholders to vote against the re-election of Mr Ashley and the 73-year old Mr Hellawell.

Pay policies at the FTSE 100 retailer, which has long-provoked the ire of corporate governance bodies over its use of zero-hours contracts, are also on RLAM and Pirc’s vote-no list.

Mr Ashley, who owns 55 per cent of the group, has previously been able to vote down shareholder rebellions, but new guidelines from the Financial Conduct Authority mean non-executive directors must be approved by minority shareholders in the first instance. A full vote of shareholders must be undertaken if the non-executives are rejected by the minorities, at which point Mr Ashley would almost certainly head off the rebellion. “There’s discontent among investors,” Mr Hamilton Claxton said. “There’s no risk of us kicking Ashley out but this is a message to him and the chairman.”

Sports Direct declined to comment.