Sports Direct
Mike Ashley, founder and majority shareholder of sportwear retailer Sports Direct, leads journalists on a factory tour after the company's AGM, at the company's headquarters in Shirebrook, UKDarren Staples/ Reuters

Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley defended his firm's treatment of staff, saying it had paid out more than £200m ($260m) in bonuses over the past five years.

The high street retailer's billionaire owner added that a cleaning lady at the company was paid an £80,000 bonus, while he travels to work by helicopter, he told BBC Breakfast.

Speaking after the firm announced it would hold an independent review of its working practices and corporate governance, the founder of the group reiterated his apology for things that had gone wrong but insisted there were positives at the retailer.

Ashley defended his expensive method of travel, and said the government is responsible for workers being paid the minimum wage, not him.

He said: "I do fly to work by helicopter, it's a reality. So when people say 'Oh be real', that's how I travel. People will say 'how can you have a plane when your workers are on minimum wage?"

"I said 'but I don't set the minimum wage'. If the minimum wage would be the living wage, then the government who set the rules should set it at the living wage. That's as I look at it."

Ashley put the poor practices discovered at the business down to a "rotten apple in the barrel" and said there are a lot of good things about the firm.

He said: "I can tell you in the last five years Sports Direct will have paid out over £200m in bonuses. So I can tell you the cleaning lady got an £80,000 bonus on top of her normal pay. Nobody in the UK has done that. What we've got to do is focus on getting the bits we've got wrong, to the extreme highs of the bits we've got right.

Earlier today (20 September) Sports Direct said it would carry out an independent review of the troubled retailer's working practices and corporate governance, following concerns raised by shareholders.

The wide-ranging review was initially to be led by the high street chain's law firm RPC, but shareholders complained at the group's annual meeting this month that because the law firm was a regular supplier it could not give independent advice.

But now the retailer said that following "shareholder feedback" at its annual meeting, the review "will now be led by an independent party other than RPC".

The move comes after independent shareholders rebelled at the retailer's annual meeting, with 53% opposing the re-election of chairman Keith Hellawell. The chairman was kept in place by the votes of founder Ashley, who still owns 55% of the business.

The company has faced sharp criticism over corporate governance and working practices at its warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, after it was revealed that some warehouse staff were paid below the national minimum wage.