British Columbia

Lululemon warns it might move HQ out of Vancouver

Vancouver-based yoga giant Lululemon is asking the federal government to exempt it from the temporary foreign workers program so it can hire highly-specialized talent from elsewhere at a quicker pace.

Vancouver-based apparel company says temporary foreign workers program is limiting its growth

A Lululemon store logo is pictured on a shop in Santa Monica, California, United States, April 12, 2016. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Lululemon is warning that it may be forced to move its headquarters out of Canada because the federal government's temporary foreign worker program is limiting its ability to stretch its wings.

The Vancouver-based apparel company best known for its yoga pants currently has 1,200 employees working in its head office in Vancouver and says it needs to hire specialized workers to further expand.

"In order to continue growing in a very competitive marketplace, we depend on highly skilled and specialized talent. Currently, there is a shortage of the kind of specialized talent our industry needs here in Canada," wrote the company in a report submitted to the House of Commons Finance Committee.

The clothing giant says the current rules are slowing down its hiring process because the company has to prove that there are no Canadians that met the job requirement before hiring from cities like London or New York. 

The retailer says it wants the same exemption that the film industry and universities get. The exemption would allow the retailer to avoid filing a labour market impact assessment application (LMIA) before hiring. 

For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Lululemon applied for 28 labour-market impact assessment applications for high-wage positions. Those were processed, on average, within 15 calendar days — after the four-week advertising period. 

Lululemon Athletica Inc. says because of the temporary foreign worker's program it might be forced to move its headquarters out of Vancouver. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

But Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, says the solution isn't an exemption. 

"I say the solution should be training British Columbians and Canadians," Lanzinger said. 

"There are many many people in British Columbia who want to do [those jobs] and we have training institutes, BCIT, VCC and many colleges and universities that have training in fashion design," she said. 

The company did suggest the federal government invest in education and training opportunities to better address the labour shortage. 

Very concerning, says mayor

Vancouver's mayor is calling this a warning sign and worries other big local companies are feeling the same pressure. 

"[I'm] very concerned that companies, because of immigration policies, would be considering leaving," said Mayor Gregor Robertson. 

"We have worked really hard to bring headquarters and lots of new companies to Vancouver." 

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says it is very concerning that companies are thinking of leaving Vancouver because of immigration policies. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Robertson said other creative industries like the film, animation, and visual effects are also feeling the pinch.

"We have had huge growth in these industries and they need to attract some of the big league talent from around the world. We are pulling companies and talent from London, L.A., and  New York and we need to keep that momentum going," said Mayor Gregor Robertson. 

"We have a real strength there and we want to keep growing that instead of losing companies," said Roberston. 

Lululemon was among dozens of other companies that presented the Government of Canada with recommendations on the temporary foreign workers program last month.

The report will be responded to with a plan within 120 days.

CBC News requested an interview with Lululemon but was told no one was available to comment. The company did, however, issue this statement:

"As a company firmly rooted in Vancouver for eighteen years, we are proud of our Canadian heritage and deeply committed to remaining here for the long term."

With files from B.C. Almanac, Jon Hernandez and Tamara Rahmani.

About the Author

Tina Lovgreen

Video Journalist

Tina is a Video Journalist with CBC Vancouver. Send her an email at tina.lovgreen@cbc.ca