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A chamber of commerce (also referred to in some circles as a board of trade) is a form of business network, e.g., 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.
The first chamber of commerce was founded in 1599 in Marseille, France. It would be followed 65 years later by another official chamber of commerce, probably in Brugge, then part of the Spanish Netherlands.
The world's oldest English-speaking chamber of commerce is that of New York City, which was established in 1768. The oldest known existing chamber in the English-speaking world with continuous records is the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, which was founded in 1783. However, Leeds Chamber of Commerce is the UK's oldest, followed by Belfast, Northern Ireland.
A chamber of commerce is not a governmental body or institution, and has no direct role in the writing and passage of laws and regulations that affect businesses. It may however, act as a lobby in an attempt to get laws passed that are favorable to businesses.
Membership in an individual chamber in an area can range from a few dozen to well over 300,000 (as is the case with the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry). Some chamber organizations in China report even larger membership numbers. Chambers of commerce can range in scope from individual neighborhoods within a city or town up to an international chamber of commerce.
In the United States, chambers do not operate in the same manner as the Better Business Bureau in that, while the BBB has the authority to bind its members under a formal operations doctrine (and, thus, can remove them if complaints arise regarding their services), the local chamber membership is either voluntary or required by law. In addition, Chambers represent the interests of businesses, while the BBB represents both the interests of businesses and the general public. Chambers of commerce also can include economic development corporations or groups (though the latter can sometimes be a formal branch of a local government, the groups work together and may in some cases share office facilities) as well as tourism and visitors bureaus.
Some chambers have joined state, national, and even international bodies (such as Eurochambres, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Worldchambers or the American Chamber of Commerce Executives). 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.
Chambers of commerce in the US can be considered local, regional, state, or nationwide (US Chamber of Commerce). Local Chambers work on the local level to bring the business community together to develop strong local networks, which can result in a business-to-business exchange. In most cases, local Chambers work with their local government, such as their mayor, their city council and local representatives to develop pro-business initiatives. 
Local chambers of commerce have existed since 1825 in the United States: the first chamber in Boston was inspired by senator Daniel Webster. In 2005 there were 2,800 chambers of commerce in the United States and 102 chambers representing U.S. businesses overseas.
State chambers of commerce are much different from local and regional chambers of commerce, as they work on state and sometimes federal issues impacting the business community. Just as the local chamber is critical to the local business community, state chambers serve a unique function, serving as a third party voice on important business legislation that impact the business community and are critical in shaping legislation in their respective state. State Chambers work with their Governor, state representatives, state senators, US congressional leaders and US Senators. In comparison with state trade associations, which serve as a voice and resource to a particular industry, state chambers are looked to as a respected voice, representing the entire business community to enhance and advocate for a better business environment.
Under the compulsory or public law model, enterprises of certain sizes, types, or sectors are obliged to become members of the chamber. This model is common in European Union countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain), but also in Japan. Main tasks of the chambers are foreign trade promotion, vocational training, regional economic development, and general services to their members. The chambers were given responsibilities of public administration in various fields by the state which they exercise in order management. The chambers also have a consultative function; this means the chambers must be consulted whenever a new law related to industry or commerce is proposed.
In Germany, the chambers of commerce and industry (IHK - Industrie- und Handelskammer) and the chambers of skilled crafts (HwK - Handwerkskammer) are public statutory bodies with self-administration under the inspectorate of the state ministry of economy. Enterprises are members by law according to the chamber act (IHK-Gesetz) of 1956. Because of this, such chambers are much bigger than chambers under private law. IHK Munich, the biggest German chamber of commerce, has 350,000 member companies. Germany also has compulsory chambers for "free occupations" such as architects, dentists, engineers, lawyers, notaries, physicians and pharmacists.
Under the private model, which exists in English-speaking countries like USA, Canada or the UK, but as well in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, companies are not obligated to become chamber members. However, companies often become members to develop their business contacts and, regarding the local chambers (the most common level of organization), to demonstrate a commitment to the local economy. Though governments are not required to consult chambers on proposed laws, the chambers are often contacted given their local influence and membership numbers.
A multilateral chamber is formed of companies (and sometimes individuals) from different countries with a common business interest towards or in a specific country. It can further be active in representing the interests of local and foreign investors in that specific country, achieved through promotion and proactivity regarding the general business environment. Multilateral chambers of commerce are independent entities strengthening business relations and interactions between all economic players, and their members may benefit from a broad range of activities that enhance the visibility and reputation of their business.
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