Business etiquette

Spain-flag-140The attitudes and values of a country have a significant impact on the way that business is conducted. The following section will outline major themes in this area. In particular, it will deal with areas of Spanish culture that may influence the success of business negotiations.

Generally, the Spanish are a very open and communicative people; they value highly their families, personal relationships and cultural traditions. They usually do not put too much emphasis upon work, as they like to focus on their leisure and live each day to the fullest. In general, family and social bonds are more important than a person’s working life in Spain. It is crucial to realise this fact when conducting business with Spaniards, as this may help you to understand the point of view of your Spanish counterparts in various situations.

Corporate social responsibility

The most significant environmental issues in Spain include air, water and noise pollution. The Government has been trying to address these issues for many years and the situation is gradually improving. However, the condition of the rivers in many of the large cities is critical, as companies are dumping toxic effluents into them. Air pollution is also an issue in large cities, particularly in Madrid, and the government’s recommended maximum levels are often exceeded considerably. However, air pollution was even more serious in the past, due to oil-fired space heating, heavy road traffic and heavy industries.

The development of important key laws in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility is increasing, especially since the establishment of the State Council on Corporate Social Responsibility in February 2008, which is responsible for fostering and promoting CSR policies, and planning new measures.

In March 2010, the Spanish cabinet approved the Sustainable Economy Law which contains various measures related to CSR focused on transparency, including the disclosure of the remuneration of managers and directors who are responsible for sustainability in the management structures of state-owned companies.

Initiatives undertaken by the European Union, international organizations, associations, non-governmental organisations and the media are actively promoting CSR in Spain, although the degree of implementation is still moderate.

The main priorities for Spain are: transparency and communication, social cohesion, diversity management, support for a productive economy, socially responsible investment, and integration of CSR into the education system.

Spanish owners, managers and employees consider that it is very important to comply with Human Rights laws in their supply chain. It seems that most customers do the same and this is one of the main issues when considering which companies are socially responsible. Nevertheless, only 12% of companies require social or environmental audits from their suppliers to verify their activities.

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Spanish people do not share the same concept of time as other western European nations. In Spain being late is usually not considered impolite and deadlines are often considered as objectives to be met where possible, but are not viewed as binding.

Gift giving

In Spain, business people do not usually give gifts to each other. However, gifts are sometimes offered at the end of a successful negotiation or to say thank you for a favour. Gifts should not be too expensive, so that they cannot be perceived as a bribe and usually take the form of food, drinks or souvenirs from your home country. Corporate gifts or books about your country are also welcome gifts, and a bottle of whisky or brandy would also make a useful alternative gift, if you have nothing else to offer. As Spanish people are generally brand and quality conscious, it is advisable to offer only high-quality items, preferably of a reputable brand. Gifts are usually opened as they are received.

If you are invited to a Spanish home, you should take presents for the family members and suitable gifts may include a box of chocolates, sweets, souvenirs or flowers. When giving flowers, you should not give dahlias, chrysanthemums, white lilies or red roses due to cultural associations; it is also important to gift flowers in odd numbers, as long as they do not add up to thirteen. Clothing, such as branded sports or fashion t-shirts, are usually suitable gifts for children.

Business dress code

Spanish people are very conscious of personal presentation and will perceive your appearance as an indication of your professional achievement and relative social standing. Thus, it is important to dress in a manner that demonstrates professionalism, style and a serious approach to business. It is advisable to dress with elegance and use only top-quality materials in subdued colours. Designer clothes are particularly recommended and elegant accessories are important for both men and women.

For men, dark woollen or linen suits and silk ties with white cotton shirts are recommended. As Spanish weather can be very hot, it is usually acceptable to wear lightweight suits, to loosen one’s tie and throw one’s jacket over one’s shoulder. If in doubt, simply follow the lead of your business host.

Women should wear well-cut suits or dresses made of high-quality fabrics. In general, Spanish women are expected to avoid drawing attention to their physical sexuality and tend to express themselves through their immaculate clothes and hair.

Unless you are visiting Spain as a tourist, it is best to avoid wearing shorts and dress conservatively in the cities. You should also be well covered if entering a church and dress up for the occasion, if dining out at a restaurant. Furthermore, high quality restaurants will have a formal dress code, even in hot summer months, such that T-shirts, cheap jeans and trainers are not acceptable attire.

Bribery and corruption

Spain has, to some extent, a higher level of corruption than other western European countries. Corruption is an important issue in Spanish politics and many professionals agree that Spain should rapidly amend its laws. It is widely believed that unethical companies should be held responsible and face severe consequences for bribery and illicit activities. A number of anti-corruption initiatives have been adopted under the framework of the Plan of Economic Reactivation, presented by the Economy and Finance Ministry in March 2005. It is expected that the penalties on bribery will be increased even more in following years, so that they have a clear dissuasive effect. It is also expected that the legal definition of a bribe will soon be extended to non-monetary benefits, including nepotism. In other words, it is anticipated that measures to fight bribery and corruption will be strengthened in the following years.

Today Spain is attractive to foreigners not only as a tourist destination, but also as a place for their second homes. This is one of the factors that lead to the expansion of the Spanish property market, which has, in many cases, served as a money-laundering facility for foreign residents. This type of crime is attracting other phenomena, such as drug trafficking and prostitution, which constitute serious problems in Spain and the source of much of the bribery and corruption in the country.

Most of the cases of bribery and corruption are reported from the public sector. They are related primarily to concessions, ambiguous approvals to contractors and economic groups, or passing jobs to friends and family members. However, corruption is usually not identified as an obstacle by foreign firms doing business in Spain and the situation is rapidly improving, with the introduction of measures aimed to fight corruption and bribery.

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