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Harnessing Technology To Perfect The Art of Cross-Cultural Gift-Giving 

Modern compliance technology is helping international companies to effortlessly manage the cultural challenges and etiquette associated with corporate gifts and hospitality in different cultures.

by Niall McCarthy 4 min

    For compliance departments, adherence to a corporate gift and hospitality policy is a constant challenge that becomes even more strenuous across different cultures where etiquette and tradition add a new dimension to existing complexities. Risk grows even further for international companies at times when generosity peaks such as Eid al-Adha, Lunar New Year and the holiday season. Many large and internationally active organisations have started employing technological solutions, such as the digital integrated compliance management platform, to help their employees perfect the art of cross-cultural gift-giving. 

    In recent years, these platforms’ digital policy management tools, interactive rulebooks and gift-approval functionality have become a game-changer for companies struggling with unfamiliar gift-giving customs in different parts of the world.  

    International business relationships, gifts and cultural etiquette

    In business, corporate gifts form a key part of building and maintaining relationships as well as a way to show respect and appreciation. They also serve to enhance a company’s image or reputation while ultimately acting as a tactic to drive revenue. The practice does have an element of risk, however, and an overly expensive gift can swiftly turn a gesture of good will into an act of bribery. Given the potentially serious reputational and financial consequences for the parties involved, it is essential for the compliance department to have proper policies and procedures in place around gift-giving. 

    In addition to elements like value limits, these should also apply to the gift-giving etiquette in different global markets where an organisation is active. Cultural considerations are an essential aspect of forging international business relationships, boding for everything from the proper utilisation of a title to the local conventions around handshakes. Gift-giving is no exception and in some parts of the world such as East-Asia, the practice is underpinned by superstition and numerology. For example, gifts in sets of six or eight are viewed favourably in China as the former stands for luck while the latter is a sign of prosperity. In China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam, the number four should be avoided as it sounds like the word for death.  

    Failure to respect cultural etiquette, especially around gifts, can strain international business relationships or tarnish reputations. In some situations, it can even lead to a loss of customers and revenue. Therefore, a corporate gift should be well thought out, appropriate and act as a symbol of a business relationship, while being in line with the recipients’ culture and values. It should also abide by a company’s gift and hospitality policy. Most organisations urge their employees to avoid overly lavish or expensive items not only due to the heightened risk of bribery allegations but also to avoid putting the business associate in the embarrassing position of having to decline the gift.  

    Gift-giving etiquette in selected countries

    Cultural customs and traditions should be a core element of any large international company’s gift-giving policy and strategy, with procedures clearly outlined. Compliance departments should draft regulatory policy together with legal experts while liaising with local business leaders and sales teams to compile cultural guidelines. Corporate gift-giving practices vary hugely around the world and some of the most interesting and challenging can be found in the APAC region. Here are several key considerations for some of Asia’s largest economies:  


    In Japan, gift-giving is an important part of corporate culture, standing for respect, friendship and communication. Visitors from overseas should be aware of the importance of the ritual itself and the rules governing it. Gifts should not be exchanged too early in the business relationship as this may appear insincere while items should be beautifully wrapped and presented (or received) with both hands. Cultural gifts are preferred to items bearing a company logo while black or white objects should be avoided given that they are associated with funerals and death – a rule also applying to the wrapping paper.  

    Upon receipt of a gift, saying “thank you very much” in Japanese – “arigatō gozaimasu” (ありがとうございます) – can leave a lasting impression on business partners. It is customary to open the gift only once the person who presented it has left.  

    South Korea

    As in Japan, gifts should be exchanged with both hands and they should never be opened in the presence of the giver. They should either be wrapped in red and yellow, the colours of the royal family, or yellow and pink, representing happiness.  

    Darker colours should not be used as they symbolise death. Knives or scissors should also be avoided as gifts because they symbolise “cutting off” a relationship while overly expensive items may cause the recipient to lose face.  


    In China, giving and receiving gifts should be done with both hands as is the custom elsewhere in Asia. Once again, black and white should be avoided when wrapping while pink and yellow symbolise happiness. Red stands for luck and during China’s Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, it is common to exchange red envelopes containing cash. However, there are complicated laws and protocols governing this practice in corporate circles and it should not be encouraged.  

    As mentioned earlier, there is an emphasis on symbology around gifts in China. While batches of four should be avoided, six () sounds like the Chinese character for “flow” (), indicating fluidity or a smooth outcome. As is the case in other countries in the region, knives or scissors are discouraged as gifts while presenting a watch to an older business partner could imply forthcoming death or a funeral.  


    In India, corporate gift-giving is not common during initial business meetings, but it is encouraged once the relationship is long-established and thriving. When the time to exchange gifts comes, dark colours should not be used while green, red and yellow are considered lucky.  

    One major consideration in India is to avoid the use of animal products. On top of a great number of people in India being vegetarian, leather may offend someone identifying as Hindu while pork products are inappropriate for Muslims.  

    How to navigate complex customs with technology

    Correctly dealing with gifts and hospitality requires clear rules and processes from a compliance perspective, and they should be digitised, with the integrated compliance management platform now the software solution of choice. This system comes equipped with multiple modules to meet all of an organisation’s compliance needs, including sophisticated gift approval and registration tools all concentrated in one place. This allows companies to establish smart processes and automated procedures across all areas of gifts and hospitality within one platform, whether it’s the definition of value limits or supplying solutions to cultural dilemmas.  

    When it comes to cultural questions on business trips, the digital code of conduct, rulebook or gift approval software allows employees across the organisation to access guidelines from anywhere at the click of a button (or a swipe). If any questions remain, they can be directed to an AI-powered chatbot within a smartphone app that offers the following:  

    • Spontaneous answer retrieval 
    • 24/7 availability  
    • Proactive recommendation of relevant topics 
    • Awareness of knowledge gaps 
    • Multiple options for action   

    Is that bottle of whisky an appropriate gift for the Japanese business partner? Is it within our organisation’s value threshold? Do the colours of the wrapping paper cause offense? The chatbot helps employees retrieve the answers to questions such as these quickly and efficiently while bypassing cumbersome existing communication channels and complex regulatory layers, saving both time and resources. 

    Companies opting for the integrated digital compliance platform also have a major advantage in terms of languages. These systems are designed for worldwide use and come with a plethora of languages as standard. While many companies operating in international markets may take it as a given that English is sufficient for internal communication, this is not always the case. Offering a code of conduct or digital rulebook in an employee’s native language helps eliminate any uncertainty around gift-giving rules across different markets.  

    Finally, these systems create a comprehensive digital audit trail of all actions taken or gifts exchanged, useful for an international investigation or handling requests from a regulator.  

    Gift-giving and some key dates to remember for 2024

    As already mentioned, haphazard gift-giving during major global events can become a major headache for compliance teams. These are just some of the key dates when generosity is expected to soar around the world in 2024:  

    Lunar New Year – February 10th, 2024: Celebrated by two billion people in China and other Asian countries, Lunar New Year (also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival) is an important occasion for corporate gift-giving. This bodes for clients and employees alike. Given that gifts should uphold prosperity and indicate good fortune, proper etiquette is essential.   

    Holi – March 24th, 2024: Also known as the festival of colours, Holi is predominantly celebrated on the Indian subcontinent and marks the arrival of spring. Gifts are commonly exchanged during Holi, also in corporate circles.  

    Eid al-Fitr – April 9th, 2024: The end of the holy month of Ramadan is a time of great celebration for Muslims around the world and many companies use the opportunity for corporate gift-giving. 

    Chuseok – 16 September 2024 – Meaning “Autumn Eve” in Korean, Chuseok is a three-day long harvest festival where gifts are exchanged between close friends, co-workers and business partners.   

    Diwali – November 1st, 2024: The 5-day festival of lights is India’s biggest and most important holiday. Gifts are typically exchanged on the third day of Diwali but it is also common to do so in the days leading up to the festival.  

    Ochūgen & Oseibo – July & December 2024: Twice a year in summer and winter in Japan, gifts are exchanged between friends, relatives and co-workers. There are rules around gift-giving on these two occasions, and compliance teams should be aware of them to avoid embarrassment.   

    Christmas, Hannukah & The Holiday Season – December 2024: Whether its Sinterklaas, Christmas or the Jewish holiday of Hannukah, the holiday season is one of the biggest gift-giving occasions of the year across the world.  

    What does this mean for international companies?

    When it comes to corporate gifts, Christmas complacency, a careless Chuseok or a haphazard Holi can cause an international company anything from slight embarrassment all the way up to regret at the avoidable loss of a major business partner. Leveraging individual compliance tools such as an interactive rulebook or gift registration module can reduce these risks, but only to a certain extent.  

    Organisations embracing the integrated digital compliance management platform have provided their employees with a comprehensive suite of tools bundled in a single package that’s ready to mitigate any gift or hospitality challenge imaginable. Not only is this platform available to employees from any location around the clock, it also helps an organisation save time and conserves resources. Ahead of the holiday season and some key cultural events in early 2024, it is an indispensable necessity for any international company seeking to perfect the art of cross-cultural gift giving.  

     To read our blog article about how to ensure compliance during the holiday season, please click here 


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    Niall McCarthy
    Niall McCarthy

    Niall is a Content Writer at the EQS Group. Originally from Ireland, he previously worked as a journalist, which included reporting on major corruption trends worldwide.