The controversial Sports Direct company, which owns 29 per cent of outdoor retailer Blacks and which recently snapped up 60 per cent of Field & Trek, is the least ethical company in the UK’s top 350, according to a survey by a national newspaper.

The Observer’s probe, carried out with Co-operative Investments, found the firm, founded by Newcastle United boss Mike Ashley, scored only 12.17 out of a possible 100. Corporate governance, workplace and community relations and how well companies address their sector’s particular issues are the basis of the ratings.

This week, chairman Simon Bentley promised to improve the company’s performance after admitting they had failed to carry out some tasks they should have. Mr Bentley told the Observer: “We are committed to improving our investor relations and our score on these measures next year.”

Of particular concern in Sports Direct’s case is the lack of scrutiny of workplace conditions in an industry that relies on far-East clothing factories that have been subject to criticism for poor treatment of workers. Another bugbear is the company’s abrasive relations with City institutions over the lack of non-executive directors’ involvement in governing the company and poor boardroom discipline.

Sports Direct owns the Sports World chain and paid £5m for its 60 per cent stake in Field & Trek in July. Founder Mike Ashley still owns 57 per cent of the company.