By Megan Doyle
This article includes a brief overview of the ICC and what it does, examining how its roles have evolved over the last century.
Representing over 45 million companies in more than 100 countries, the ICC is committed to developing and maintaining economic sustainability for businesses and countries worldwide.1 The ICC sets global trade standards and guidelines (such as Incoterms, rules that define the responsibilities of sellers and buyers for the delivery of goods) to help create a level playing field for businesses, no matter how big or small.2 To maintain a balance among SMEs and large enterprises alike, the ICC relies on its global network of national committees, chamber members, and member companies to shape its policies.3
Over time, the ICC has expanded its roles to include arbitration, dispute resolution, and trade finance guidelines. The ICC has also worked alongside the United Nations as an advocate for businesses worldwide.4 Among its current focuses are the impact of digital technologies and climate change on global business sustainability.
The ICC also offers businesses a number of services, such as in-depth trade guidelines, a digital library, and online training courses.5
After World War I, a group of entrepreneurs—known as the Merchants of Peace—recognized the need to rebuild economies and standardize international commerce relations and procedures. By 1919, the International Chamber of Commerce was born.6
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the ICC paid particular attention to the challenges, complexities, and risks of global trade.7 In 1923, for example, it introduced the International Court of Arbitration to help resolve international business disputes.8 Today, that court is considered the premier institution of its kind.9
Meanwhile, the ICC began to establish guidelines and standards to mitigate the complexity of differing trade rules in different countries. For example, it developed trade finance standards to help small businesses move into foreign markets.10 The ICC also created rules for documentary credits (procedures in which the creditworthiness of an importer is substituted by the guaranty of a bank for a specific transaction) and demand guarantees. In 1936, the first version of the Incoterms rules was published.11
To this day, the ICC continually updates its guidelines to adapt to the changing nature of global trade.
In 1945, the ICC supported the formation of the United Nations.12 A year later, the ICC was granted top-level consultative status, and in 2016 it was granted UN Observer status. These two distinctions allow the ICC to contribute to UN policy development and help the UN understand the concerns of the private sector. The ICC is also involved in the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), whose goal is to help eliminate legal obstacles to global trade.13
In 1950, the ICC established the World Chambers Federation (WCF), a non-political, non-governmental body that helps commerce chambers worldwide develop partnerships and exchange ideas.14 The WCF’s primary mission in connecting SMEs to the ICC is to give them the support they need amid globalization.15
Since the turn of the 21st century, the ICC has kept up with the times. In 2017, for example, it expanded its rules of arbitration to include Expedited Procedure Provisions, which help to accelerate resolution in trade disputes of $2 million or less.16
Also in 2017, the ICC established a working group to create standards for ensuring that trade finance rules are digitally compatible.17 And in late 2018 the ICC updated its Advertising and Marketing Communications code to cover aspects of digital marketing and advertising. The ICC also has established guidelines to help businesses and individuals protect their intellectual property, especially when conducting business globally.18
Beyond its digital initiatives, the ICC has branched out to address a different realm of sustainability: combating climate change, which it sees as key to the “long-term certainty needed to support business and innovation growth.”19 For the last several years, the ICC has worked alongside business groups and other non-governmental organizations, and supported the Paris Agreement, in an attempt to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.20
Celebrating its 100th year as a global organization, the role of the International Chamber of Commerce is still evolving as it continues to help create and maintain a sustainable global business environment for companies of all sizes.
Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher based in Wantagh, NY, whose work focuses primarily on financial services technology.
1. “The Climate Challenge,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/the-climate-challenge
2. “A Unique Global Footprint,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/global-dialogue
3. “Global Network,” ICC; https://iccwbo.org/about-us/global-network/
4. “The Voice of Business at the United Nations,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/icc-and-the-united-nations
5. “Resources for Businesses,” ICC; https://iccwbo.org/resources-for-business/
6. “The Merchants of Peace,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/timeline
7. “Finance and Banking in a Digital World,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/timeline
8. “The Merchants of Peace,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/timeline
9. 2018 International Arbitration Survey: The Evolution of International Arbitration, Queen Mary School of International Arbitration; http://www.arbitration.qmul.ac.uk/media/arbitration/docs/2018-International-Arbitration-Survey---The-Evolution-of-International-Arbitration-(2).PDF
10. “Finance and Banking in a Digital World,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/timeline
11. “Incoterms Rules,” International Chamber of Commerce; https://iccwbo.org/resources-for-business/incoterms-rules/
12. “The Voice of Business at the United Nations,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/icc-and-the-united-nations
14. “Uniting World Chambers for a Better World,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/world-chambers
15. “World Chambers Federation,” ICC; https://iccwbo.org/chamber-services/world-chambers-federation/
16. “Leading Dispute Resolution Worldwide,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/leading-dispute-resolution-worldwide
17. “Finance and Banking in a Digital World,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/timeline
18. “The Voice of Business at the United Nations,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/icc-and-the-united-nations
19. “The Climate Challenge,” ICC@100; https://100.iccwbo.org/theme/the-climate-challenge
20. “What is the Paris Agreement?,” United Nations: Climate Change; https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement