Six big-box stores recently sued the province of Quebec over Canadian retail legislation
that requires them to add French to their outdoor signs. Best Buy, Costco, Gap, Guess, Old Navy and Walmart claim that modifying their signs to sound more French would weaken the brand identity they have invested millions of dollars into building.
As the Toronto Star
explains, a campaign launched in November of last year requires all businesses to change their names and store signage in order to be more welcoming to the province's French speakers. Companies can either register French versions of their names, add descriptive French words to their store signs—Canadian Grocer
offers the example of Le Magasin Walmart—or include French slogans below their English names.Language laws a threat to brand identity
"Their business model depends on standardization and scale, none of which are possible under this (threat)," Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queens University, told QMI Agency
. "(The retailers) have spent hundreds of millions on brand identity and now lose that within Quebec. It could be that they'd be better off not operating in Quebec if the cost is a loss of their fundamental business model."
The Office Quebecois de la langue francaise is threatening to revoke the retail giants' francization certificates, which signify that they are operating in accordance with provincial language laws. Companies that do not hold francization certificates are unable to receive provincial subsidies or contracts.An "effective tool to chase out business"
According to QMI, the six retailers operate a total of 152 stores in the province—approximately one-third of which are Walmart locations. Collectively, they employ thousands of people, all of whom may be left without jobs if an agreement cannot be reached and the companies end up pulling out of the province altogether.
Alberta Conservative MP Rob Anders recently weighed in on the issue, calling the linguistic regulations "the most effective tool to chase out business and investment that I have ever run across," as quoted by the media outlet. "That's not what we need in an economic recession."
This isn't the first time that retailers have taken a stand against language-related Canadian retail compliance
laws. As the news source notes, Blockbuster Video threatened to stop operating in the province when the government requested that it take a French name in the 1990s.