Sports Direct's Mike Ashley to face shareholders' showdown at AGM

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Under-fire Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is bracing himself for a showdown with shareholders and unions at the company's annual general meeting (AGM) today as he throws open the retailer's factory doors to the public.

On Tuesday, the company announced a raft of measures aimed at addressing concerns over working practices at the retailer's Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire.

Sports Direct said it will offer casual retail staff guaranteed hours instead of zero-hours contracts and ensure all warehouse staff are paid above National Minimum Wage following a review.

A report carried out by law firm RPC found "serious shortcomings" at Shirebrook, which Sports Direct's board "deeply regrets and apologises for".

It followed Mr Ashley's grilling by MPs in June and a submission by Unite the union to the Business Select Committee that said staff were subject to "Victorian" working practices and lived in constant fear of losing their job or facing disciplinary action for "excessive" talking or spending too long in the toilet.

Shareholders and unions are expected to use today's AGM as a platform to vent their grievances. 

Investors are still calling for an overhaul of the firm's board of directors, a shake-up of corporate governance and an independent review into working conditions at its factories.

In particular, investors are continuing to press for chairman Keith Hellawell to be deposed.

Royal London Asset Management, which owns a 0.18% stake in Sports Direct, said that while the reforms are an improvement, they set "the bar quite low", adding that Mr Hellawell's position was "untenable".

Other heavyweight investors, such as Legal & General and Hermes Investment Management, are also expected to vote against Mr Hellawell's re-election on Wednesday.

Another shareholder advisory group, Pensions and Investment Research Consultants (Pirc), has advised investors to vote against the re-election of Mr Hellawell and executive deputy chairman Mr Ashley.

The Investor Forum, consisting of influential investors holding assets worth more than £14 trillion, has urged Sports Direct to "undertake a wide-reaching independent review of the entire governance practices at the company".

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said that, while the report represents progress, the union still wants the company to go further.

Mr Ashley has also announced he will hold an open day on the day of the AGM.

The retailer said the purpose of the open day is to "enable the board to engage with as many people as possible in an open discussion about the business".