There is often confusion around the purpose of a Chamber of Commerce and Industry, sometimes called a Business Chamber. Misconceptions abound regarding the why, how and where of a Chamber’s purpose. The reason a Chamber of Commerce and Industry exists, however, is actually very simple – to help businesses do business, better and more profitably.
A Chamber of Commerce and Industry is effectively a network of businesses, established to advance the interests of its business members. It is a formal, structured, voluntary association that seeks to promote, develop and sustain the business community of a region. It is non-governmental, but influential in its area nonetheless. In some countries, a Chamber may be partially subsidised by government, but this is not the case in South Africa.
Business Chambers have been in existence for hundreds of years, with the earliest recorded organisation founded in 1599 in France. New York’s very famous Chamber of Commerce dates back to 1768, with many other historical, well-established Chambers around the world. Some Chambers are tiny, with just a handful of members, while others have membership that runs into the hundreds of thousands.
Membership of a Chamber is not compulsory – joining is an entirely voluntary process that merely requires the payment of reasonable fees. It is an attractive option for businesses because of the benefits that being a member confers. Membership allows a member access to a wide range of services, helping them to function more smoothly as a business.
For example, members of the East Rand Chamber of Commerce and Industry can rely on the expertise of the Chamber to assist them in a number of ways. This includes the creation of professional company reports, business plans and budgets, and the obtaining of certificates of origin. Members can also take advantage of health and safety training courses that are offered by the Chamber, such as basic first aid and basic fire fighting courses. This helps companies to ensure compliance with health and safety laws. The Chamber can help with compliance in other areas too.
Chamlabour, a division of the East Rand Chamber of Commerce and Industry, employs dedicated labour consultants and attorneys to assist its members with the drawing up of contracts, termination letters, and disciplinary codes, as well as other legal materials including representation at internal hearings, the CCMA and Labour Court. Any question or dispute related to labour law can be referred to Chamlabour, saving a member the high costs they would otherwise face were they have to contact a labour law practitioner directly. The Chamber is also able to assist with Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) compliance, which can be complicated and time-consuming without professional help.
In addition, members are able to build a web presence and make the most of inbound marketing strategies, including blogging, through the Chamber. Other advantages of membership are having access to regular networking events, such as business breakfasts, being listed on a datadex, exposure to potential clients, sales leads and, very importantly, representation at municipal and government departments.
The East Rand Chamber of Commerce and Industry exemplifies what it means to be a Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They, like other Chambers the world over, serve a clear, unified purpose for businesses. They support and strengthen their members, helping to grow local companies and their communities too.