Best Practices Manual - 2010 Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America

Best Practices Manual - 2010 Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America
Best Practices Manual

Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America

Best Practices Manual - 2010 Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America

ABOUT AACCLA.........................................................................................................................1
BOARDS OF DIRECTORS...........................................................................................................3
BUSINESS VISAS ........................................................................................................................13
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY .............................................................................22
DISPUTE RESOLUTION ...........................................................................................................29
EXTERNAL RELATIONSHIPS.................................................................................................31
MATCHMAKING SERVICES...................................................................................................34
OVERSEAS ADVISORY COMMITTEE (OSAC) ....................................................................44
STAFFING AND VOLUNTEER LEADERSHIP.....................................................................46
SUPPORTING THE CHAMBER...............................................................................................50
TRADECENTER / INFOCENTER ...........................................................................................54
WEBSITE ......................................................................................................................................57
MEMBER SERVICES ..................................................................................................................61
APPENDIX A: INTERNAL COMMITTEE RULES ................................................................64
APPENDIX B: MATCHMAKING BROCHURE....................................................................80
APPENDIX D: CODES OF CONDUCT..................................................................................88
Best Practices Manual - 2010 Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America
For nearly a century, the American Chambers of Commerce (AmChams) have been the most
influential voice of U.S. business in Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, joined together in
the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America, these 23 AmChams
represent more than 20,000 companies and over 80 percent of U.S. investment in the region.

Acting in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the world’s largest business
federation — AACCLA has become the premier advocate for U.S. business in the Americas.


The Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America advocates trade and
investment between the countries of the region and the United States through free trade, free
markets, and free enterprise.


AACCLA is guided by certain core values which form the foundation of both its mission and its
trade and investment advocacy. AACCLA believes that:

          The rule of law and freedom of choice, both in economics and politics, are basic
           rights that every country in the hemisphere should grant to its citizens.
          Economic growth is the key to improving social well-being — and therefore, the
           continued health of democracy — throughout societies.
          The economic activity of the private sector, including trade and investment, is the
           principal instrument of economic growth.
          Corporate social responsibility and sustainable development are vital to improving
           long-term social and economic conditions.


AACCLA organizes a variety of programs and services to member AmChams and companies
that are looking to the markets of the Latin American and Caribbean region. AACCLA serves

          A reliable source of information on regional trade and investment issues.
          A critical point of communication between the AmChams, members of the U.S.
           Chamber of Commerce, as well as governments in the United States and Latin
           America and the Caribbean.

      A vehicle for companies based in the United States to access a business network
           throughout the Hemisphere.

AACCLA’s conferences provide an opportunity for face-to-face interaction with executives and
government officials across Latin America and the Caribbean.             Individual AmCham
membership directories also provide detailed information on companies throughout the region.
AACCLA’s member AmChams publish business magazines written by experts who provide
country-specific analysis of trade and investment opportunities — a valuable source of targeted
business intelligence.


                              BOARD OF DIRECTORS

These guidelines provide “best practices” arising from the experience of American Chambers of
Commerce (AmChams) throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to assist all
AACCLA affiliated chambers in improving performance and increasing affiliate satisfaction.


The Nature of an AmCham

An American Chamber of Commerce abroad is an independent, non-governmental and
nonpartisan, not-for-profit bilateral institution.

These voluntary associations consist of U.S. enterprises and individuals doing business in a
given country, firms and business executives of that country who operate in the United States,
and companies from third countries operating in the host country. As members of the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, AmChams benefit from innumerable services and privileges adhering
to U.S. Chamber membership.

AmChams are formed to advance the interests and views of U.S. business overseas, to uphold
the highest standards of commercial practice, and to interpret the point of view of other
countries to the American business public. Through AmChams, business executives of the
United States and host countries come together to promote their mutual interests.


The mission of an overseas AmCham is to promote economic relations between the host
country and the U.S. through trade and free enterprise, and to further the legitimate general
interests of its members.

The typical major activity of an AmCham is to provide services to member firms and business
executives who support the organization. Typical AmCham services include:

          Advocacy activities before local and U.S. government on relevant issues impacting
          Business facilitation services, including business appointments, trade missions, and
           market research;

       Business opportunities, including export-import trade leads, business and
           government procurement information;
          Seminars and workshops on relevant business themes;
          Development of initiatives and policies to improve competitiveness and the business
           environment in the host country;
          Breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings featuring U.S. and foreign business leaders
           and officials;
          Periodic news bulletins and other publications;
          Information clearinghouse on trade, investment, and commerce;
          Business visa services;
          Information center for customs, duties, tariffs, and regulations;
          Library and reference facilities for member use; and
          Participation in activities of the U.S. Chamber.


AmChams believe economic development is essential to social progress and well-being.
AmChams consider that the key to economic development is individual effort and initiative by
each member of society. They consider the rule of law, respect for property, and individual
freedoms as basic human rights to be guaranteed by all authorities.


AmChams abroad incorporate under the laws of the host country, with which they must
comply. AmChams abroad must also comply with the “Principles to Govern American
Chambers of Commerce Abroad” as approved by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1947 and
subsequently amended in 1981. These principles were developed at the request of, and in
cooperation with, the AmChams. Members of AACCLA must also comply with the standards
of the Association.


AmCham members are companies and individual business executives that operate on a
binational or multinational basis. They join efforts in order to promote trade and investment
between the host country and the United States as a source for increased economic
opportunities and equitable development, as well as reducing unemployment and poverty, to
the benefit of both nations.

Firms and business executives may join an AmCham to enhance community goodwill, without
expectation of immediate individual benefit. Others may join for the services they may expect
from the chamber, which vary according to their requirements. Most companies join AmChams
for the same reason they join local chambers in the United States—to meet people, make
business contacts, and exchange information useful to their business. In addition, U.S. concerns
often need special assistance in foreign countries where the language, laws, regulations, and
customs may be unfamiliar.

       Rules for Admission
           Successful AmChams maintain transparent rules for member admission designed to
           ensure quality membership and a community of shared values aligned with the
           general objectives of the institution. Most AmChams prefer quality membership to
           quantity and have established screening processes through Membership Committees
           that ensure the participation of companies that add value to its operation and
           maintain high ethical standards both in business and the community.

          Procedures for Expulsion
           Membership in an AmCham is generally renewed annually with the payment of
           dues, and AmChams usually have the ability to discontinue membership
           automatically on an administrative basis. Other forms of expulsion generally involve
           ethical issues that are decided in a fair and transparent manner by a Membership
           Committee or similar committee of the Board of Directors.

          Differentiated Membership Guidelines
           Some AmChams have different membership categories according to company origin
           and type of activity. In establishing separate categories, rights and responsibilities,
           AmChams set clear, transparent, and invariable rules for classification, and fully
           disclose these rules to all interested parties. Active membership should consist of
           American citizens and American controlled firms, and citizens and firms of other
           countries who are engaged in commercial trade between the United States of
           America and the country in which the AmCham is located, and who are in
           agreement with the policies of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

          Relationship with the U.S. Government
           Close contacts should be maintained by AmChams with the representatives of the
           U.S. government. The sympathy and support of the U.S. government and its
           representatives should be accorded to all American Chambers of Commerce abroad
           that conform to the established standards in the conduct of their operations.

          Are Members Shareholders or Adherents?
           Members of AmChams are companies and individuals that choose to support the
           aims of the Chamber and derive the benefits of membership. They voluntarily join an
           existing institution; they do not acquire stock and as such are considered adherents,
           as opposed to proprietors.


AmChams represent the highest percentage of U.S. businesses operating in and with the host
country, and hold the interests of these members foremost in establishing policies and priorities.
AmCham operations maintain transparency, fairness, objectivity, and balance, while striving for
the highest possible degree of professionalism.


AmCham financing is a product of member dues and Chamber operations. AmChams should
take careful consideration before accepting financial aid from any government, since such aid
inevitably carries a degree of governmental supervision and control, and such supervision and
control are neither desirable nor consistent with the independence considered essential for
American commercial organizations. No subsidies or contributions should be accepted from
any source which would tend to prevent AmChams abroad from having the freedom of action
which is necessary in the promotion of Chamber interests in general. In the event of accepting
funds from governments, AmChams should use the funding for specific projects and not to
support the general operations of the AmCham.

Each AmCham Board should determine the degree and conditions in which it accepts funding
from multilateral agencies or other institutions for joint projects or contractual responsibilities.
In any event, no project or contract should compromise the independence of the institution.


AmChams are institutions made up of volunteer members, institutions, and, on an occasional
basis, individuals1, and managed by a professional staff. A clear understanding of the roles of
volunteers and the professional staff is the key to the success of an AmCham.

Chamber volunteer leaders and officers work with Chamber staff through the CEO / Executive
Director, or staff members designated by this individual, in order to carry out Chamber
strategies. It is a basic rule of AmChams that all volunteers adhere to an established chain of
command in order to guarantee efficiency, coordination, and balance in the execution of
Chamber policies.


Volunteers are all unpaid individuals who take an active part in Chamber activities.

             Roles and Responsibilities of Volunteers
              The main role of an AmCham volunteer is to support the institution and its staff
              through initiatives, ideas, and/or financial contributions. Successful AmChams have
              a broad variety of members that contribute effectively to institutional development
              with talent and initiatives. Ensuring genuine volunteer participation in Chamber
              activity and rotating responsibilities are basic traits of a successful AmCham.

              AmCham volunteer members, both business organizations and individuals, are
              stakeholders as opposed to shareholders.


The Board of Directors is entrusted with the highest responsibility for Chamber affairs and full
representation of member interests; as such, it holds a position of trust that calls for the

    Unlike Chambers of Commerce in other parts of the world, membership is not limited to companies.

strengthening of Chamber values and practices, maintaining transparency, fairness, objectivity,
and balance, and striving to obtain the highest possible degree of staff professionalism.

As the number of American citizens working for U.S. business abroad continues to decline, the
U.S. Chamber has taken into account the fact that today many American firms abroad are
represented by non-American citizens.

Therefore, the following organizational characteristics have been deemed acceptable in
accordance with the current interpretation of the “principles”:

          AmChams may have a majority of non-U.S. citizens on their Board of Directors as
           long as a majority are representatives of U.S.-controlled firms;

          AmChams need not have U.S. citizens serving simultaneously as President and First
           Vice President as long as the AmCham bylaws require alternating the citizenship of
           the President (American vs. non-American) every other year; and

          AmChams may have non-U.S. citizens serving simultaneously as President and Vice
           President as long as one is a representative of a U.S.-controlled firm and the Board
           approves the nomination in advance.

The constitution and bylaws should provide that any questions of policy or any proposed
amendments should be approved by the Board of Directors before acted upon.

         Board Selection/Election Procedures
          Selection of Board members is best achieved through transparent processes that lead
          to the identification of individuals most closely aligned with Chamber values and
          most able to contribute ideas, resources, and prestige to the achievement of Chamber
          objectives. Procedures ensure the best and broadest identification of candidate
          options within membership.

         Nomination Procedures for Board Members and Officers
          AmChams generally entrust the nomination of new Board members and officers to
          Nominating Committees that are designated by the Board of Directors and generally
          comprised of current Board members and senior staff, as well as former officers.
          Transparency in the selection of Directors and officers is the hallmark of AmCham
          nominating procedures and requires that members of Nominating Committees fully
          disclose to the Committee all business or other links to prospective nominees.

          “Old-boy” networks within Chamber leadership are discouraged in order to achieve
          the benefits of broadened volunteer participation.

         Voting Procedures
          Voting procedures vary with Chamber bylaws. However, consensus is typically
          sought for the selection of the best candidates to serve on Boards and as officers. As a
          general rule, adversarial campaigns have a negative effect on Chamber activities, and

volunteers who actively seek to obtain office either as Directors or officers are the
    least suited for such responsibilities.

   Board Composition and Terms
    The profile of companies most suitable for representation on an AmCham Board is a
    key consideration in the selection of Board candidates. While the number of Board
    members and the terms that they serve vary, most AmChams have specific
    provisions outlining the specific numbers, as well as term limits, to ensure regular
    rotation of Board members.

    Keeping the “Am” in “AmCham” is fundamental. Accreditation guidelines for
    AmChams established by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce require that a majority of
    Directors represent U.S.-controlled firms as a reflection of the unique mission of
    AmChams as representatives of U.S. investment overseas and promoters of closer
    trade ties with the United States.

    The ability to influence U.S. policymakers is particularly important, as influence in
    Washington usually translates to credibility and clout in the AmCham’s host

    Given the strong advocacy focus of most AmChams, the ability of a company to
    exert influence locally through official contacts, or a positive image in the media can
    be a plus for the organization as a whole.

    Former presidents are given appropriate recognition and their experience is a
    valuable asset as advisors, but they have no proprietary rights, and their presence at
    Board meetings should never “crowd out” renewed corporate leadership.

    If regional offices exist, the branches’ Chairs or Presidents of the board should be
    members of the national Board of Directors in order to ensure adequate
    communication and coordination in strategies and policy development.

   Balance
    The AmCham’s influence will benefit from the inclusion of companies drawn from a
    diverse range of economic sectors. Having respected blue-chip U.S. and local
    companies on their Board is the most important element in their success.

   Board of Directors or Board of Trustees?
    Whatever the title, a member of an AmCham Board, although typically elected by
    the general membership, holds a position of public trust as opposed to the
    proprietary status accrued to Directors in a private company.

   Director Profiles
    Attracting the best individuals to serve on an AmCham Board of Directors is just as
    important as getting the right profile of companies. The willingness of corporate
    executives to make a significant personal commitment to the AmCham is a key

criterion for selection to a Board; and a Director’s willingness to assist in recruiting
          new members or lead special projects can be a tremendous advantage.

          It is imperative to attract highly ethical business leaders to serve on the AmCham
          Board. Individuals with a political background or a partisan agenda are often
          unsuitable for Board membership.

          Consultants and other providers of professional services are often useful, but should
          only be part of a Board of Directors when they have a demonstrable sensitivity to
          issues involving conflicts of interest. As previously mentioned, as a general rule
          members that campaign to obtain positions on a Board or as officers are the least
          desirable choices for such positions.

         Chairperson and Officer Profiles
          The Chairperson is generally the chief officer of the American Chamber and provides
          the main operating link between the Board of Directors and the professional staff,
          through the CEO.

          AmCham Chairpersons and officers hold office for one and not more than two years,
          and are therefore entrusted with the responsibility of upholding Chamber practices
          and institutional culture during his or her tenure.

          Elected officers in AmChams hold honorary responsibilities of trust, not proprietary
          functions. Board membership is an honor that provides prestige, which often has
          positive repercussions for the professional development of Directors.


The AmCham President is in charge of providing leadership and visibility to the Chamber and
the CEO. Among his or her main responsibilities are:

         Establishing the strategic direction for the Chamber,
         Setting the agenda for the Board and Executive Committee,
         Maintaining and strengthening the image and visibility of the Chamber with the
          media, authorities, and the U.S. and host country business communities, and
         Providing leadership to the Board, the Executive Committee, and committee Chairs.


AmChams have a clear identity and a mission that is periodically updated through a strategic
planning process that provides a level of focus beyond what appears in the bylaws. An
examination of the mission can be the ideal starting point for any discussion of what sort of
Director is most appropriate – or what exactly Directors should do.


           Roles and Responsibilities of Staff
            AmChams entrust the execution and continuity of operations and policies to
            professional staffs that are fully qualified, empowered, and appointed by the Board
            to carry out their mandate, following guidelines set during strategic planning

           CEO Profile
            AmCham CEOs (sometimes called Executive Directors) have high community
            prestige, administrative ability, and a talent for communication at all levels. The
            ability to work well with professional staff and rotating volunteer officers is essential
            to the success of an AmCham CEO. CEOs are usually ex officio members of the Board
            of Directors and all Chamber committees.

           CEO Selection and Compensation Procedures
            CEOs are appointed by the Board of Directors of an AmCham, usually on a
            contractual basis, and serve at the discretion of the Board. Selection of CEOs is
            generally entrusted to a Search Committee made of up of senior volunteers, often
            assisted by professionals. Compensation policies are set at the outset and reviewed
            periodically by the Board, or by a committee specifically charged with the
            responsibility of executive retention. At no time is CEO retention or compensation
            contingent on the decisions of individual volunteers who serve as officers on a
            temporary basis.

           CEO Oversight Procedures
            The correct balance between an adequately empowered and fully qualified CEO and
            the Board of Directors is essential to the success of an AmCham.

            Boards of Directors generally entrust oversight to Executive and/or Management
            Committees that work closely with the CEO to ensure the best execution of priorities
            established by strategic planning processes, as well as optimal administration of
            Chamber resources.

            The Chamber’s Chairperson is the principal officer charged with CEO oversight, and
            best results are based on open and close teamwork between the Chairperson and the

            Boards of Directors are obligated to name external Auditors to monitor proper
            administrative performance by the CEO and receive their reports.


           Relations with Host Country and U.S. Authorities
            AmChams are completely independent of governments and domestic business
            institutions. They do not take part in partisan politics of any nature in either the host

country or the United States. In promoting bilateral economic objectives and member
           interests, they at all times uphold the highest standards of commercial practice.

           AmChams maintain permanent communication with authorities at all levels of both
           nations in order to promote their objectives, acquire operating information for
           member companies, and represent their legitimate interests. The AmCham facilitates
           bilateral communication and understanding between both nations in order to ensure
           a positive environment for economic development and further integration for
           mutual benefit.

          Relations with U.S. Embassies
           Although AmChams are independent of either government, the most successful
           Chambers develop open cooperative relations with U.S. embassies in the host
           country in representation of member interests. They often develop joint programs in
           areas of practical interest, such as expedited issuance of business visas. In addition,
           the U.S. Ambassador in the host country often sits on the AmCham’s Board of

          Relations with Regional Offices
           In larger countries, AmChams either operate or authorize the operation of regional
           offices or committees that can best serve members in the different regions. Regional
           operations or branches share the same objectives and priorities as the principal
           Chamber. Except in special situations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognizes
           only one Chamber as the legitimate AmCham in each country. It is suggested to
           develop a governance process for branches or regional offices, including strategic
           and administrative/operational guidelines.

          Relations with Local Business Organizations
           An effective AmCham transmits the most up-to-date “best practices” within U.S.
           Chambers to the host community business organizations by setting examples in its
           own operation and through programs directed at members and the community alike.


AmChams contribute experience and information to the formation of public and economic
policies in a balanced and objective manner that is institutional, transparent, pragmatic, and
non-doctrinaire, in order to seek the best possible conditions for binational trade and
investment. AmChams seek practical solutions to structural and economic difficulties, and
strive to become a part of the solution instead of the problem.

Policy issues are set forward objectively, on the merits of each issue, with special care to avoid
political or personal controversy with other groups, organizations, or personalities.

AmChams should not be placed in, or assume, the role of a “special pleader” on behalf of a
particular industry or geographical area. In addition, AmChams should avoid intervention in
narrow issues of intra-industry nature, such as matters that concern only a particular group or
segment within an industry. If consensus cannot be reached among relevant committees or
members, a mechanism should be in place to make the decision to take on or abandon the issue.

In reflecting member interests within the host country, AmChams give special attention to
compliance with established corporate standards in the United States in matters such as abiding
by laws, transparency, ethics, and corporate social responsibility. U.S.-based corporate values
always apply in operations abroad.

AmChams generally approach advocacy in areas of general policy and principle, and do not
engage in representing the interests of specific affiliates, except in matters of a general nature
and at the request of the member involved, preferably in writing and with the approval of
corporate headquarters wherever applicable. In representing specific cases, an AmCham should
avoid conflicts of interest with other members, and comply with legal and ethical standards. In
conflicts of interest between members, AmChams should either promote conciliation and
arbitration, or abstain.


An AmCham informs members, public opinion, and all business sectors on the benefits and
opportunities in bilateral economic relations and conditions that influence them. It generates
objective and balanced information on economic and operating conditions in both nations in
order to facilitate planning and evaluation of business decisions by member companies.


AmChams promote improved legal systems that guarantee stable, predictable, equitable, and
transparent rules for business within the host country. In doing so, they promote and sponsor
arbitration and conciliation mechanisms that facilitate conflict resolution and diminish


AmChams practice corporate social responsibility and good citizenship as institutions
throughout all of their activities and programs, and promote action by affiliates directed at the
local community. An AmCham is a catalyst for initiatives in these areas and uses its
institutional strength to create synergy between the local community, private enterprise, and
government in order to improve social and human conditions within the host country.

AmChams continually inform the community of achievements in corporate responsibility and
positive impacts of private social investment in the host country and the world.



These guidelines provide “best practices” arising from the experience of many American
Chambers of Commerce (AmChams) throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to
assist AACCLA-affiliated Chambers in improving performance and increasing member


For better or worse, AmCham member companies from Mexico to Argentina expect that their
local American Chamber will be able to expedite their dealings and solve their problems with
the Consular sections of their respective United States Embassies. In some cases, members and
non-members erroneously think that AmChams are a branch of the Embassy, which they are
not. Nonetheless, one of the many added value services that an AmCham should provide to the
best of its ability is a way for its affiliates to have improved access to visas for business travel.

Prior to September 11, 2001 it was, for the most part, relatively simple for legitimate business
travelers from AmCham member companies to apply for and obtain the visas they required.
Changes in U.S. immigration policy and new regulations put in place via the “Homeland
Security Act” have made the visa application process substantially more complicated. The U.S.
Visit Program, initiated in 2004, requires that applicants for visa renewal, as well as first-time
applicants, schedule interviews and provide biometric (fingerprint) data in order to complete
the process. Statutory and regulatory changes initiated in 2004 require all visa applicants to
have an in-person interview for all new visas, as well as for visa renewals. Consular offices are
also collecting biometric (fingerprint) data in order to complete the process. The changes
brought on significant delays. While many of these delays have been reduced with an increase
in staff at consular posts, better technology, and as travelers have become more familiar with
the process, obstacles and delays remain. The business traveler often looks to his/her local
AmCham for assistance in navigating an often confusing and frustrating system. In January
2006, the Secretaries of State and of Homeland Security created the Rice-Chertoff Joint Vision:
Secure Borders and Open Doors in the Information Age initiative as a commitment to both
facilitating the travel of legitimate international visitors to the United States and protecting U.S.
border security. In February 2007, the State Department established a worldwide customer
service goal by which every U.S. business visa is to be scheduled for an appointment in 15 days
or less. The State Department has also posted appointment wait times on the internet to
increase transparency and facilitate travel planning. You can find the information at

One of the more confusing elements in the post 9/11 system lies in the fact that, although strong
general guidelines are in place for all U.S. Consulates, individual missions still have some
leeway regarding cooperation with organizations such as AmChams. The range of cooperation
goes from American Chambers being able to provide almost complete visa processing services
to not providing any special services at all for Chamber members, and everywhere in between.

This document attempts to glean the best practices of AmCham offices in the region as
compiled by a survey conducted by AACCLA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late 2005.
This survey of AmChams worldwide helped the U.S. State Department to identify the most
effective diverse business visa facilitation programs in the world. As a result, a number of
significant improvements to visa procedures have been made, including posting interview wait
times online at Consulates, allowing visitors to make appointments online, and at some posts
reinstating business visa facilitation programs at AmChams.


The first step toward being able to provide assistance to members with visa issues is to establish
and maintain excellent and open relations with Embassy staff. Meeting with the Consular staff
and the Consul General (CG) on a periodic and regular basis helps to maintain open and
friendly lines of communication. Where possible, and particularly in countries with larger
embassies, it is very helpful to establish a specific line of communication, designating one
AmCham staff member in particular to be the contact person for the Consular section and for
the CG and in turn designating one particular consular officer to deal with the AmCham and its
membership. In this way, when an issue or question arises regarding an appointment or the
visa status of an AmCham member, the lines of communication are clear and the member can
get an answer or solution in a timelier manner.

Due to the fact that U.S. Consulates experience frequent staff turnover, quarterly meetings
between the AmCham consular contact person and the consular staff (the non-immigrant
consular officers, in particular) are key. Oftentimes, junior consular officers have limited
knowledge as to the conditions in the new country to which they have been assigned, and it is
important to assist - where such assistance is welcomed by the CG or the Non-Immigrant Visa
(NIV) section chiefs - in acquainting them with the local cost of living (salaries levels, etc.),
neighborhoods, and how the business community operates locally. Many AmChams have
found that this sort of mini “cultural training” is very useful as it helps the officers in making
more informed visa decisions in the limited time that they have to conduct interviews. In some
countries, consular officers interview as many as 80 to 100 visa applicants on a daily basis and
as a result any additional insight that the AmCham can offer that will help expedite their
decision-making process is greatly appreciated. Periodic meetings are also useful to discuss any
new issues that may have arisen or clear up doubts regarding policy—both State Department
policy and AmCham policy—regarding business visa referrals.

The person in charge of visas at the AmCham should be as well-versed as possible regarding
visa application procedures, types of visas, required documentation, procedures for requesting
interviews (call center or direct), fees and fee payment procedures, and wait times for
interviews and final visa processing. The latter four elements vary—sometimes substantially—
from post to post, and an individual post can change policies without much prior notice.
Therefore, it is important that the visa staff member is up-to-date with the consular section’s

business visa procedures. The basic information should be posted and updated continuously
on the AmCham’s website, as this is often the first point of reference for members—and non-
members—in search of information.

It is also important that the point of contact at the AmCham be reachable, which may include
establishing a special e-mail or phone number, perhaps with designated hours.


It is important that the AmCham formulate a specific policy regarding visa assistance for its
members. An established and consistently enforced policy not only keeps things clear for the
members, but also helps to maintain credibility with Consular staff. Regardless of the visa
policy chosen it should be well publicized, clear, predictable, and easy to follow. AmCham
executive administration should look at several factors when deciding its visa policy, including:

      Local consular policies regarding interview scheduling. Although the State Department
       and the Department of Homeland Security have strong policies and guidelines for
       consular officers, there is some country-to-country leeway regarding cooperation with
       organizations such as AmChams. For example, some posts assign the AmCham a set
       number of interview slots with specific times. In other areas, applicants must make
       appointments through a Call Center. And other consular sections allow for group
       appointments or set aside a specific day or block of time to allow business visa
       applicants to show up without an appointment.

      Will the AmCham only assist with business related travel or will it also deal with other
       types of travel as requested by its members?

      Will the AmCham assist only executives and employees of member companies, or will
       assistance extend to family members? This is where local Consulate policy is important
       as some posts have Business Visa programs with benefits that can be extended to the
       immediate family members of employees of participating companies.

      Will the AmCham assist members in filling out visa forms and/or checking
       documentation before the applicant submits it to the Embassy?

      Will/can (depending on local post policy) the AmCham provide pickup/delivery
       service of documents?

      Will the AmCham charge a separate fee for visa consultation/assistance or will this
       service be offered as an added value for membership? Factors to consider here would
       include the extent of the services that AmChams can offer and the volume of work in
       this area.

      Will the AmCham impose a mandatory waiting period for new members before visa
       assistance services can be solicited? It is an unfortunate fact that many AmChams have
       found that some companies have applied for membership to the American Chamber
       primarily—in some cases, solely—for visa purposes. To counter this, many AmChams
       have adopted a six-month or one year waiting period, which is explained to the

companies before they apply for membership. One AmCham requires that the principal
       executive of any new member company have a valid B1-B2 visa.

      Will the AmCham have a policy to sanction a company or an individual employee of a
       company when false or misleading information is provided on visa application


Once the AmCham has established its policy on visa assistance, members and the Consulate
should be advised in writing. The policy should be clearly articulated and easily available on
the AmCham website and reinforced through the electronic bulletin. All AmCham staff should
be familiar with the policy, although specific member inquiries will be referred to the
designated visa assistance staff member.

It is also useful to have periodic meetings (working breakfasts or lunches) with members to
keep them abreast of visa policies and procedures. Consular officers should attend these
meetings, when possible, to answer questions. This type of interaction also allows consular
officers to get to know the membership and vice versa, overcoming boundaries and stereotypes.

The AmCham should, as always, serve as a bridge between members and the U.S. Consulate,
providing support to the individual member and facilitating the job of the consular officer.




An AmCham committee is composed of CEOs or other executives from AmCham member
companies who meet regularly and who have a common set of interests or program of work.
Committees provide an excellent infrastructure for networking and benchmarking among
AmCham members. In addition, they provide a platform that strengthens the leadership skills
of young corporate executives who choose to take an active role within one or more committees.
An unofficial definition of committee might be “an inexpensive and practical leadership
school,” as they provide young executives with hands-on experience in the organization,
motivation, sensitivity, and communication skills needed by team leaders in today’s corporate

The nature of committees within AACCLA member AmChams is as varied as the AmChams
themselves. However, it is typically noteworthy that active participation in function or task
work groups/committees is closely linked to member retention. Companies who participate in
committee initiatives, and who benefit from committee networking, are more likely to remain
AmCham members and to support their local AmCham through events, publications,
sponsorships, and other activities. Thus, because committees represent one of the primary
services in all AmChams, most Chambers choose to have an open door policy for participation
in committees without a cap on the number of executives from member companies that may

Following is an analysis of the committee work within AACCLA member AmChams, including
(I) the nature and scope of committees; (II) general rules of operation, including formation,
management, and dissolution of committees; (III) funding; (IV) communication; and (V) best &
worst practices.


In general, smaller AmChams operate from 5 to 10 committees, while the largest AmChams
have more than 16 committees open to member participation.      International Trade and
Investment, Human Capital/Education, and Security Committees seem to be present in most
AmChams; working groups for these committees have between 10 and 30 participants
(sometimes more) and tend to meet on a monthly basis.

Because AmChams represent a wide array of economic sectors, it is common for committees to
represent specific industries (tourism, gas and energy, real estate, telecommunications, finance)
or specialized activities (legal, tax, environment, logistics, marketing).      Recently, current
challenges such as the protection of intellectual property rights, corporate governance, and
social responsibility have justified the formation of committees dedicated to these issues.

In general, committees work on specific projects when the committee Chair and the group
define a particular initiative according to a pre-defined program of work, or serve as a forum to
discuss issues of interest with authorities or other business leaders.

It is recommended that committees have a mixture of both lines of work (action orientation and
forum for discussion) and that an agenda for each meeting be prepared in advance. Also, it is
advisable that an annual program of work is prepared by the committee Chair and presented to
the Board of Directors specifying which deliverables will be handed out by the committee to the
rest of the membership. These deliverables could include a working paper, position paper,
white paper, surveys, findings, recommendations, lobbying actions, a particular campaign or
initiative, or a seminar/event.


AmChams generally allow member companies to admit any number of company
representatives into their committee structures. Exceptions include AmCham Venezuela, which
has a unique admission policy that requires the submission of a CV and an invitation from an
AmCham officer to participate.

In general, most AmChams assign the management of committees to staff members. A part-
time staff person can usually handle up to one fairly large committee (more than 30
participants) or two to three smaller groups (10-15 participants). A full-time staff member
usually can handle up to 9 regular sized committees. Staff members perform tasks which
include (a) issuing invitations to committee members and speakers; (b) acting as a secretary,
preparing minutes and written materials; (c) handling the logistics and payment, if applicable,
of the meeting; (d) preparing the agenda of the meeting following the instructions of the
committee Chair; and (e) doing relevant research for the committee.

Most meetings last from one to one and a half hours and are held within AmCham premises;
the AmCham typically provides complimentary coffee. The role of the AmCham staff person in
charge of coordination varies from mere administrative support to providing leadership and
showing initiative in developing the committee’s program of work. AmCham Brazil-São Paulo
has established a different system for the staffing of and leadership development for committee
coordinators: committee members contribute to pay the salary of an intern (usually seniors in
college), who at the end of his/her internship (usually 6 months) is likely to be hired
permanently by one of the member companies. These interns go through a careful selection
process so that the committee is assigned a top-quality young professional that will be involved
closely with the committee Chair in leading the committee.

An important administrative task of committee coordinators involves registering attendance so
that proper records of active members are maintained; some AmChams may require that
committee members attend at least 80 percent of all meetings held throughout the year.

Invitations are usually issued by e-mail and may be followed up by phone or fax. Some
AmChams also hold a no-show policy that requires billing committee members who do not
attend a breakfast /lunch meeting if they failed to send a cancellation notice 24 hours prior to
the meeting.

Committees are usually formed at the recommendation of the Board of Directors or the CEO,
following the requests of member companies. They usually include sub-committees in charge of
specific activities. Committees who are inactive or whose program of work does not reflect the
interest of member companies fade out or are naturally dissolved.

Some AmCham committee Chairs are formally appointed by the Board of Directors for a term
of one to three years; others are formally appointed by the CEO. About half of the AmChams
have a democratic process for electing committee Chairs, whereby committee members
nominate their leader; many also lean toward including at least one Board Member in all of the
committees to ensure better communication and leadership. The inclusion of committee Chairs
as part of the Board of Directors is not automatic. However, to assure a balance in governance,
committee Chairs should report to the Board periodically.

A final key aspect in the management of volunteers participating as committee members or
Chairs involves motivation, usually provided by the CEO and the AmCham President. Close
personal contact between the CEO and committee Chairs on a weekly or at least bi-monthly
basis is a must.

Attendance and involvement in committees by the CEO or President is motivating but usually,
for most AmChams, only takes place a few times a year on a rotating basis. Recognition of
participation is usually given once a year through a special event where committee Chairs or
volunteers receive an award, with the media and other members present. AmCham Trinidad &
Tobago organizes general committee networking cocktails twice a year.

          Funding
           Most AmCham committees are required to produce income through events or
           activities and fund their breakfasts or luncheons by distributing costs among
           participating members.

           Some committee members act as sponsors of special events, generating revenue for
           the Chamber. It is a common practice to have close financial control on the activities
           organized by committee members so that these are self-funding or produce a
           surplus for other Chamber activities.

          Communication
           A continuing challenge is communicating the achievements and activities of
           committees to all the members and the business community.                  A general
           recommendation is that committee Chairs meet regularly with the CEO and
           President to enhance coordination and communication. It is also advisable that
           Chairs present a program of work to the Board and committee members at the
           beginning of the year, and that press bulletins are released to the media periodically
           when a committee has an important activity or deliverable.

In order to improve coordination and communication among committees, some
    AmChams have established a Committees Steering Team chaired by a member of the
    Executive Committee. The Steering Team is responsible for communication and
    alignment with strategies and direction set by the Board of Directors and for
    identifying synergies among the various committees’ programs of work and issues
    being addressed.

    The Chamber magazine and e-newsletter also provide a means to let member
    companies know what is happening in each of the committees and to motivate
    greater participation. Most Chambers have implemented periodic written reports
    by committee Chairs to the Board, a practice that motivates leadership and assures
    better follow-up (another continual challenge).

    Finally, countries with multiple AmChams or with a number of regional offices or
    branches (Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and Venezuela, for example) face additional
    communication challenges.         This communication can be facilitated by
    teleconferencing, as well as the sharing of leadership directories and minutes.
    Posting minutes of meetings on the national Chamber’s website and sending
    minutes by e-mail to committee members (attending or not) are other effective

   Best and Worst Practices
    A good practice in committee management is to motivate leadership in committee
    Chairs by providing recognition and freedom of action while providing input on
    what initiatives may or may not be undertaken in order to protect the neutrality and
    financial health of the Chamber.

    It is recommended that a set of bylaws or code of rules be prepared in writing for
    committee members and Chairs, specifying responsibilities for the staff and for
    volunteers. A healthy rotation method of committee leaders should also be well
    spelled out. Such committee rules are available in AmCham Mexico/Guadalajara
    and VenAmCham, among others.

    Another good practice is to know when and how to cancel a meeting if the content
    of the agenda is undesirable or there is not a quorum. It is best that the CEO
    expediently cancels any scheduled speakers, while the staff informs committee
    members in writing and by phone.

    In general, it is undesirable to have committee Chairs that are not committed to
    designing a meaningful program of work or that use their position to gain personal
    exposure. It is important that the CEO attend meetings to detect who is a natural
    positive leader in each group, and to be prepared to facilitate change for the benefit
    of the committee when this is not the case.

    Committee members or Chairs sometimes attempt to use the committee structure to
    promote their own business or to gain political exposure with authorities or clients.
    If such an intention is detected, it is important to have another volunteer (and not
    the CEO) address and resolve the problem. Usually a compromise can be reached
    by balancing the agenda or modifying the content of a presentation. Staffers and

committee members alike need a clear understanding of what is permissible in
         committee meetings, as compared to what is permitted in a sponsorship

         In conclusion, committees are an extremely important service within the Chamber
         structure because they provide an opportunity for companies to network, gain
         strategic information, lobby with authorities, or simply make a positive change.
         The key for committees to work effectively lies within the quality of their leadership,
         the clarity of their focus, the motivation and management provided by the AmCham
         staff and CEO, and the true service orientation of members toward the AmCham

A comprehensive manual on guidelines on the function of committees can be found in
Appendix A.




Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a crucial part of today’s business agenda and
Chambers have the role of promoting CSR concepts and practices.

There are several coexisting definitions of Corporate Social Responsibility. One of the most
popular definitions in the region is the one coined by the Ethos Institute from Brazil:

“Corporate Social Responsibility is the way of conducting business defined by ethical and
transparent relationships with all stakeholders, and the establishment of business goals which
are compatible with the sustainable development of society, preserving environmental and
cultural resources for future generations, respecting diversity, and promoting reduction of
social inequalities”.

Corporate Social Responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically
and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce
and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.

AmChams practice corporate social responsibility and good citizenship as institutions
throughout all of their activities and programs, and promote action by its affiliates directed at
the local community. An AmCham is a catalyst for initiatives in these areas and uses its
institutional strength to create synergy between the local community, private enterprise, and
government in order to improve social conditions in the host country.


The role of the AmCham is to represent the interests of its membership in general and, with
respect to CSR, to encourage member companies’ commitment to social responsibility by
acknowledging the key role that they play in society. Promoting the concept of Corporate Social
Responsibility and facilitating the sharing of ideas and best practices are also part of that role.
There are several ways that AmChams can work with companies in this sense. AmChams must
recognize that there will be different priorities and values and that it is essential to understand
the companies’ and the community’s needs through various stakeholders such as civil society

organizations, NGOs, governments, and other private sector business organizations. Some
examples of possible actions are:

          Creating recognition or awards programs;
          Organizing workshops and/or training programs;
          Organizing conferences;
          Organizing field programs; and
          Providing information through the AmCham website.

1. Awards Programs

Awards Programs are a means by which the AmChams can motivate and encourage companies
and corporate foundations to implement CSR programs.

The award may be granted for a company’s global CSR strategy, i.e., operating its business in a
manner that meets or exceeds the ethical, legal, commercial and public expectations that society
has of business. Additionally, an award may be granted for the impact of the company´s
programs in the community.

The development of the selection criteria should be done by an expert in CSR and entries
should be judged by an independent, expert panel which can also include members of
academia. The jury cannot include representatives from any of the companies, corporations or
individuals that are competing for the award.

AmChams are encouraged to maintain a database or virtual library of all the projects submitted.
The information should also be posted on the AmCham website.

Example of Awards implemented by the AmChams:
ECO Award - AmCham Brazil-São Paulo

The Award for Corporate and Social Contribution - ECO Award - is in its 28th year. It is a purely
socio-cultural and not-for-profit initiative that annually recognizes the best citizenship practices
and actions that contribute to well-being in general and to the sustainability of societies,
conducted by Brazilian companies and corporate foundations.

Corporate Citizenship Award - AmCham Argentina

The Corporate Citizenship Award recognizes the work and commitment of those companies
and corporate foundations, members and non-members of the AmCham, that work for the
benefit of the community in which they operate.

The purpose is to acknowledge the commitment of the private sector that turns corporate social
responsibility stories into real facts, leading other companies to emulate their generous actions.

As usual, the prestige of presenting the award is given to the jury, which is called to perform
the task of selecting the winners and whose experience and reputation assure its autonomy and

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