A chamber of commerce (or board of trade) 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.
The first chamber of commerce was founded in 1599 in Marseille, France. Another official chamber of commerce would follow 65 years later, probably[vague] in Bruges, then part of the Spanish Netherlands.
The world's oldest English-speaking chamber of commerce is the Jersey Chamber founded in February 1768, the same year the New York City Chamber was founded, The oldest known existing chamber in the English-speaking world with continuous records, the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, was founded in 1783. However, Hull Chamber of Commerce is the UK's oldest, followed by those of Leeds and of Belfast in present day Northern Ireland.
As a non-governmental institution, a chamber of commerce has no direct role in the writing and passage of laws and regulations that affect businesses. It may however, lobby in an attempt to get laws passed that are favorable to businesses.
Membership in an individual chamber can range from a few dozen to well over 800,000, as is the case with the Paris Île-de-France Regional 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 operation 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. Some Chambers are partially funded by local government, others are non-profit, and some are a combination of the two. 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 visitor bureaus.
Some chambers have joined state, national (such as the United States Chamber of Commerce and the British Chambers of Commerce) and even international bodies (such as Eurochambres, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Worldchambers). 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 United States can be considered community, city, regional, state, or nationwide (United States Chamber of Commerce). City 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, city Chambers work with their local government, such as their mayor, their city council and local representatives to develop pro-business initiatives. There are also bilateral chambers of commerce that link the business environments of two countries (e.g. Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce, Moldovan-American Chamber of Commerce).
Community chambers of commerce started[when?] in the UK and later spread to in the US, becoming city chambers of commerce as communities developed and became larger. Community chambers of commerce are smaller and most[quantify] have a limits on numbers of members.
City chambers of commerce have a long history in the US. The Charleston Chamber of Commerce is one of the oldest, dating back to colonial 1773. That same year, Boston's Chamber of Commerce organized a seminal tax protest: The Boston Tea Party.
In 2005 there were 2,800 chambers of commerce in the United States and 102 chambers representing U.S. businesses overseas. According to the Association for Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), there are approximately 3,000 chambers of commerce with at least one staff person and "thousands more established as strictly volunteer entities".
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.
Understanding the National or International need for understanding and information is the key service that these level of chambers of commerce provide. These services are in most cases are at no fee or cost to their members, some of the resources offer personal and/or business services that may have a very low fee (Memberships to other association like the NRA etc.).
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 (e.g. France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria), as well as 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.
In many countries Chambers of Commerce are a source of private sector information. The information is usually gathered by surveying Chamber members. The British Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Survey is an example of a Chambers of Commerce survey that is used by official governmental departments as a guide to the performance of the economy.