Spain recently passed legislation to align with the EU Whistleblower Directive, marking an important step to strengthen protections for individuals who report misconduct. Although with significant delays, Spain’s Law 2/2023 transposing the Directive came into force in February of 2023. The law aims to provide adequate safeguards against retaliation for whistleblowers disclosing violations of EU or Spanish law that threaten the public interest. [1]

Law in Spain

Spain possesses a sophisticated civil law framework that emphasises comprehensive legal codes and doctrine and takes great pride in its rigorous jurisprudence tradition that provides consistency and certainty. This strong foundation in the meticulous application of civil law principles equips Spain with a robust basis to incorporate the EU Directive into its comprehensive legal system.

Whistleblowers can disclose information internally to managers or compliance departments if internal reporting procedures exist. Such internal channels are required to be implemented by private companies with over 50 employees and all public sector entities as of the 13th of June 2023. Externally, they can turn to public whistleblowing channels supervised by the Autoridad Independiente de Protección del Informante (AAI), or by the relevant regional authority.[2] Critically, the law prohibits retaliation and introduces fines for entities that penalize whistleblowers. However, experts argue there are still weaknesses around anonymity protection and enforcement mechanisms.

Before the Directive on whistleblowers

Before the new law, whistleblower protections were limited in Spain with some sector-specific rules. The 2010 anti-money laundering law pioneered requirements for internal reporting channels in certain industries. Spain’s gender equality law mandates procedures to address workplace harassment complaints. But there was no comprehensive legislation covering whistleblowing until the implementation of the EU Directive. On paper, Spain’s law indicates progress in aligning with the EU standards, however, putting robust protections into practice remains an ongoing challenge. Experts emphasize that strong enforcement, training, and cultural change are essential to make whistleblowing safe in reality.

Example of whistleblowing

A case that exemplifies the need for reform is that of Ana Garrido, a civil servant who in 2007 exposed a major corruption network within the Boadilla del Monte city council linked to Spain's Popular Party. Garrido revealed irregular contracting practices that favoured certain companies, providing evidence that led to a major investigation. However, she faced retaliation and harassment at work, eventually being forced out of her job. Though she won a lawsuit against the council, Garrido has still not received compensation. Her whistleblowing came at a high personal cost but brought accountability for abuse of power and misuse of public funds.

Cultural attitudes promote keeping quiet rather than voicing concerns. Anti-retaliation provisions in law need to be paired with protections in practice through confidentiality safeguards, diligent investigation of disclosures and penalties for those who punish whistleblowers. Sustained advocacy and vigilance are vital to fully realize the benefits of the legislation. With whistleblowers playing a key role in upholding accountability, Spain has a foundation to build on in enabling speaking up against misconduct.

[1] Commentary to Law 2/2023 of 20 February on the protection of persons who report violations of the law and the fight against corruption

[2] Spain – EU Whistleblowing Directive implemented

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