Chambers of commerce are established by businessmen in different cities and towns for the purpose of protecting their interests. The members, usually local businessmen, elect an executive council to oversee these associations.
The purposes served by the chambers of commerce include the following:
- Prevention of unnecessary contest through establishment of uniform wages, hours, and prices
- Growth of trade in their own cities or towns
- Supporting municipal rules and regulations for the commercial interest of their areas
- Resolution of disputes between members with the help of arbitration
- Collecting statistics and information which might be useful for their members
- Keeping a record of blacklists for the reference of the members
The earliest chambers of commerce were incorporated in continental Europe in the year 1599. They were located in Brugge, Belgium and Marseille, France. The Glasgow chamber of commerce was incorporated in the year 1783 and it is considered to be the earliest chamber of commerce to use the English language.
The number of memberships in a chamber of commerce can vary from one or two dozen to the more than 3,000,000 members of the the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Chambers of commerce differ in size and may take the shape of a town or city chamber of commerce, a county chamber of commerce, a regional chamber of commerce, or an international chamber of commerce.
Economic development groups or corporations, visitors bureaus, and tourism bureaus can also be included in the chambers of commerce. In most countries, the application of the term "chamber of commerce" is controlled by the federal legislations.
The business membership models of the chambers of commerce all over the world can be commonly categorized into the following types:
- Continental/private law chambers: This model is present in English speaking countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
- Compulsory/public law chambers: This model is usually found in the European Union nations like Germany, France, Spain, and Italy.