The Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the ‘Commercial Hall’ as it was called initially, was founded in 1825. We therefore pride ourselves of being the oldest private sector organisation in Barbados. Over the years, the BCCI has changed considerably in terms of its structure and leadership; but one thing remained the same, is its mandate to the Barbados business community.
Without a doubt, the Chamber has been the single most powerful channel for promoting positive economic growth for both commercial and industrial businesses in Barbados. The most comprehensive account thus far is owed to the effort of Peter F. Campbell who produced a work entitled Commercial Hall. Here, Campbell examined the history of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce from 1825 to the early 1900s. In Campbell’s view, the organization facilitated the development of the business sector because of its political influence.
Although details of the Hall around the time of its formation are unclear, it is reasonable to deduce that the party that formed the Hall was a prominent, influential and wealthy set of businessmen who represented the agro-mercantile elite. These elite controlled the state of affairs in Barbados from the time of colonization, to the mid twentieth century. They dominated almost all sectors of society. In the political sphere, they controlled Parliament, the Executive council and even the parish vestries.
The Hall was formed during a time of economic uncertainty for the elite and Barbados as a whole. Emancipation was on the horizon, exactly thirteen years away. This no doubt would have deeply troubled planters and merchants alike as they were unable to envision Barbados without an enslaved labour force. Emancipation perniciously loomed on the consciousness of the elite as the defining apocalyptic event of the century. Consequently Commercial Hall was formed to safeguard the business community from unmitigated financial squalor.
In the twentieth century, Commercial Hall continued to grow and increasingly became more relevant to all classes of Barbadian society and especially to the government. In fact there were several instances where the local government relied on the Hall’s expertise for advice on sensitive trade matters and they were occasionally requested to represent the country on these matters. Another striking feature of the Hall in this century was the growing sense of regionalism. This regionalism was exhibited in cooperation with other West Indian Chambers of commerce and even through expressions of goodwill towards countries that needed aid.
On 11th August, 1868 an Act came into operation ‘incorporating the Society called the Commercial Hall, in the island of Barbados with Limited Liability.’ In 1909 an amendment was made and the title of the body was changed from “Commercial Hall” to the “Barbados Chamber of Commerce.” However, This Act is no longer enforced as it was replaced by the 1983 Chamber of Commerce Act. This Act would have extended the Chamber’s core objectives and functions to also promote the manufacturing sector. The word ‘Industry’ was added to the Chamber’s name to help reflect the sector’s importance to the island’s economy. Beginning in 1910, the Chamber was actively involved in monitoring international developments that would affect the economic standing of the island.
It continues to provide members with focused leadership and a strong voice to promote the interests of the business community among other things. It has stood the test of time and continues to influence the social, economic and business environments in order to create sustainable economic progress for the country.