When the UK’s largest sporting goods retailer, Sports Direct decided they were going to help during the Covid-19 pandemic, it became quite apparent that their kind of “help” was really just a transparent, self-serving move to put profits above any service that might actually improve their customers’ situations.
When the country entered into its first national lockdown, the sport retail giant announced it would keep its retail stores open, claiming that they were a vital national asset.1
In a statement its workforce, Sports Direct said, “‘Against the backdrop of the closure of gyms the demand for these types of products has increased exponentially as the population looks to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There is no one else that has the range of product and range of stores to make this reasonably accessible for the whole population.”2
That declaration did not resonate well with employees nor the government, but it ended up being for naught – after called out Sports Direct was required to close its stores’ doors in accordance with the lockdown.
The story could have ended there for the sports equipment provider. Instead, they felt no apparent shame when they raised the online prices of many of their home fitness products a whopping 50%. The price increases alone got them negative attention. But that scrutiny led to the reveal that despite the closures, some employees were telling the media they were being required to keep working in the stores and factories to keep their jobs. That was despite government advice to stay at home unless they were an essential worker – which had already been deemed not the case. Employees began reporting a lack of the workplace protections, told not to clock in before beginning shifts, and other not-so-altruistic moves.
Numerous workers came forward reported they felt that they were being forced to make a choice of risking their health and keeping their jobs.3
That’s a terrible, terrible message to send to the public under any circumstances. Worse still, it’s the message they were inadvertently sending during what is arguably the worst health crisis in a century.
Needless to say, the media didn’t mince words with their ensuing press coverage:
Mirror: Coronavirus: Sports Direct hikes prices of exercise equipment by more than 50%
Daily Mail: Sports Direct hikes online prices by up to 50% while Britons exercise at home due to coronavirus lockdown – as boss Mike Ashley’s factory staff claim they are forced to work despite him closing all UK stores in U-turn after backlash
Yahoo! Finance: Sports Direct hikes prices on sports equipment following store U-turn