Business & Industry

Oct 1, 2015

Chambers of Commerce: Businesses United

Chambers of Commerce have been around since the end of the 16th century, when the first of its kind started operations in Marseilles, France. Afterwords, the establishment of new Chambers of Commerce around the world helped merchants to reach new territories and markets, marking the beginning of global trade.

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Today, a Chamber of Commerce is a form of business network, for example, a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community. Local businesses are members, and they elect a board of directors or executive council to set policy for the chamber. The board or council then hires a President, CEO or Executive Director, plus staffing appropriate to size, to run the organization.

These are usually non-governmental institutions. A chamber of commerce normally has no direct role in the writing and passage of laws and regulations that affect businesses.

Currently, there are about 13,000 chambers registered in the official Worldchambers Network registry, and the chamber of commerce network is the largest business network globally. This network is informal, with each local chamber incorporated and operating separately, rather than as a chapter of a national or state chamber.

In many countries Chambers of Commerce are a source of private sector information. The information is usually gathered by surveying Chamber members and made avalable to investors or partners.

Chamber missions vary, but they all tend to focus to some degree on five primary goals: building communities (regions/states/nations) to which residents, visitors and investors are attracted; promoting those communities; striving to ensure future prosperity via a pro-business climate; representing the unified voice of the employer community; and reducing transactional friction through well-functioning networks. Chambers have other features in common. They share a common ambition for sustained prosperity of their community or region, built on thriving employers.

Chamber business models and organizational missions vary significantly. Some chambers may offer services and products that appear to compete with businesses operating within their own territories. One group of chambers may affiliate with a service provider to offer discounts or other benefits to chamber members (from low-cost office products to health insurance), while another group aligns with a completely different vendor. As a rule, larger chambers tend to rely less on membership dues revenue than their smaller counterparts. 

In many countries around the world, membership in the Chamber of Commerce is mandatory under national laws, with fees collected under some part of the business permit or taxation process. These organizations are referred to as "public law" chambers. Many of them boast memberships in hundreds of thousands, since literally all legitimate businesses must belong. Chambers in the UK, Canada, Australia and Eastern Europe tend to operate on a voluntary membership basis like the US. In the European Union and much of Asia, public law chambers are more prevalent.

Many chambers around the globe belong to regional associations such as Eurochambres or the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce. The World Chambers Federation ties a few thousand chambers from around the world together into one loose association, which operates under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. 

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