By Qazi Kabir Ahmed Hashmi
Accountability Lab conducted Business Accountability Bootcamps across four cities in the month of October, and hosted 95 entrepreneurs from all over Pakistan, to encourage them in the direction of ethical and sustainable business practices. We covered several key points in these bootcamps including the benefits of ethical business via case studies, the benefits of OGP in Pakistan’s context, as well the importance of building trust between customers, businesses, and the government. However, we found that there was a general lack of understanding about the role of chambers of commerce and the usefulness of becoming a member of the chambers, among the entrepreneurs.
There is a general lack of digital presence among chambers of commerce that doesn’t allow young entrepreneurs to take advantage of the chambers.There is also a lack of a formal forum that collects grievances from the business community and formally documents them.Through this blog, we wanted to highlight the membership facilities and the work chambers can do in helping individual businesses achieve advocacy goals. As chambers of commerce are the bridge between the business and policy makers, we wish to both encourage individuals to join the chambers and push the chambers to develop their advocacy tools at the same time. By taking this twofold approach, we think this is the best way to create a better business environment and push Pakistani businesses towards more open and ethical business practices.
What constitutes a chamber of commerce?
A chamber of commerce is an association or network of business-people designed to promote and protect the interests of its members. A chamber of commerce, sometimes known as a “board of trade”, is made up of a group of business owners that share a locale or interests, but can also be international in scope. It will choose leadership, name representatives, and debate which policies to publicize and promote. Chambers of commerce exist all over the world. They do not have a direct role in creating laws or regulations, although they may be effective in influencing regulators and legislators with their organized lobbying efforts.
Benefits of membership with chambers of commerce:
Having a chamber of commerce membership will allow you to form relationships with other business owners in your area. It allows you to attend business networking events, so that you can meet fellow members and learn about their businesses.
There aren’t many cons of a Chamber of Commerce membership; it’s an affordable group that will foster immediate connections and promote business. One thing a Chamber does is to synthesize the business landscape which would take a lot of time if one had to do it on its own. By doing the behind-the-scenes work to pull together events and networking opportunities, chambers make introductions easy face-to-face interactions lead to stronger relationships. The Chamber helps facilitate greater interaction, provides access to powerful referrals as well as opportunities for growth (professionally and individually). It also provides access to resources and makes it accessible to consult other members or experts for advice in certain areas.The chambers are greatly involved in community involvement, which enables members to give back to their community. Finally, the chambers provide a platform for a great support symptom that can help members through their troubles and bring them forward.
Many roles of chambers of commerce:
Chambers of commerce also play an important role in local municipalities in promoting business activity and representing chamber members. At least at the local level, chambers of commerce members often meet to discuss and attempt to shape policy that relates to the business and overall economic environment. Members also receive the distinction of being a preferred local vendor, as well as listing on various municipal websites and literature. Many Chambers of Commerce offer discounts to members on everything from office supplies to continuing education. You may get access to email lists, as well as first dibs on booths at trade shows and other events. Business owners are always looking for new opportunities to network and meet other small business owners and expand their business network. One great way to do this is to become a member of your local Chamber of Commerce. Many small businesses increase their business exposure and grow revenues through involvement with the Chamber.
In Pakistan, much like other countries, the business community also has organizations or committees that perform the role of pressure groups to protect, promote, and project the interests of its members. These organizations may cater to the combined interests of the business community, such as Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, or they may look after the interest of, for example, the automotive industry, the textile spinning mills or the rice exporters. At the same time, the various chambers, such as Karachi Chamber or Lahore Chamber, have to tread a fine line when it comes to protecting the interests of members.
Advocacy by, and the influence of chambers of commerce:
Certain campaigns by the business community have made formidable impacts on economic policies. The Fuel Adjustment Charge that Karachi Electricity Supply Company (KESC) used to levy on its customers was termed discriminatory since the customers of Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) were exempted. The Karachi industrialists, spearheaded by SITE Association of Industry, initiated a media blitz resulting in the end to this discriminatory practice.
A few years ago, Central Board of Revenue (CBR – now Federal Board of Revenue – FBR) commenced the process of registering the industries, business establishments, retailers etc. under the Sales Tax regime by using the services of the armed forces. A concerted campaign by retailers throughout the country put paid to this scheme. A pragmatic process was derailed due to the myopic thinking of the CBR hierarchy and because of the influence that the pressure group had on the streets even on the non-elected policy-makers in the government. The intensified campaign conducted by the leaders of these Associations through lobbying at every forum, through writing to policy-makers, in the newspapers, through speeches and presentations, and through various forms of persuasion, resulted in the formation of the Committee for the Rationalization of Tariff on Textiles and Raw Materials for the polyester industry under the leadership of Zubair Motiwala by the CBR Chairman. The recommendations of the committee were accepted in totality and thus import duties were slashed, sales taxes on textiles became a thing of the past, and the CBR helped to curb under-invoicing, misdeclaration, and smuggling. This is a vivid example of the effectiveness of a serious and genuine pressure group.
*The author is associated with the Accountability Lab as its manager projects.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.