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Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley Defended By Business Professor Who Believes Workers Rights Are For The Middle Class

'You learn industrial skills and then you can get a job in the normal middle-class way.'

07/06/2016 11:39 | Updated 07 June 2016

A business professor who took to the radio to defend Sports Direct's Mike Ashley has sparked a backlash after he suggested not all workers deserved to be treated "in the middle-class way".

Jeremy Baker, an affiliate professor at ESCP Europe Business School, said it was "idealistic" for firms to treat their workforce well and pay them a normal rate, in full, regardless of class.

The academic clashed with BBC Radio 4's John Humphrys, who had to make the point during Tuesday's Today programme that "everyone should be treated like a human being".

Baker was speaking on air to defend the Sports Direct founder, as he prepared to appear in front of a parliamentary committee to answer questions about working conditions at his company.

Jeff Overs via Getty Images
Humphrys seemed baffled at being called an 'idealist'

During Baker's five-minute interview, he also advocated British employers "exploiting" migrant workers.

His comments did not go down well on social media, with Twitter users piling in to criticise the professor's remarks. 

"Professor Jeremy Baker teaches advanced mill ownership & child chimney sweeping at the University of 1795," wrote one.

Here's how the long, excruciating exchange between Baker and Humphrys played out.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (BIS) is scrutinising working practices at Ashley's Shirebrook warehouse, including reports of poor working conditions and the use of controversial zero-hours contracts.

Committee chairman Iain Wright questioned what Mr Ashley had to be ‘’frightened of’’ when he announced last week that he would not be attending.

In a letter to the Labour MP, Mr Ashley said: ‘’I am mindful of your statement to the press on Friday in which you question whether or not Sports Direct has anything to hide.

‘’I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth. I believe my repeated invitations for you to attend Shirebrook are a clear demonstration that in fact we have nothing to hide. I was merely seeking to avoid an unnecessary media circus.

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