Quebec Demands Walmart, Costco and Others Frenchify Their Signs


Walmart (WMT) and several other leading North American retailers are going to court to fight orders from the Quebec Board of the French Language that their outdoor signs be modified in order to appear "more French."

In addition to the world's largest retailer, Costco (COST), Best Buy (BBY), Gap (GPS), Old Navy and Guess (GES) are challenging the language office's demands. The government of Quebec has for decades sought to promote the use of French in the province; as Canada's QMI Agency reports, "Section 63 of the Charter of the French Language states that 'the name of an enterprise must be in French.'"

But according to Nathalie St-Pierre, a vice president at the Retail Council of Canada, there is disagreement over whether the law applies to companies' trademarked names. In the past, businesses like Walmart and Best Buy have not been required to add French words to the trademark names they emblazon on their stores.

"Now there is a new interpretation that says that when you use your trademark as a sign it becomes the name of the company," said St-Pierre. "If the law has changed then it needs to be clarified because it hasn't been applied [like that] for the past 30 years."

The retail council said that the language office has been threatening companies with fines ranging from $3,000 to $20,000. To avoid the penalty, Walmart would have to change its outdoor signs in Quebec to read something like "Le Magasin Walmart" (the Walmart Store).

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