British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium

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The British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium (BCCB) is a not-for-profit company established in 1898.1 It describes its mission to be “the essential network for international business in Belgium” acting as a “unique networking platform for business people”.2


Among the BCCB’s approximately 270 members are British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Tobacco.3 On the more exclusive, 23-strong group of Patron Members, made up of corporate representatives, BCCB, is Florian Vernay.4 On the BCCB web site he is titled Regulatory Affairs Director at JTI. Vernay actually now works as European Public Affairs Manager at Unilever having left JTI in 2011. Previously Vernay was an accredited lobbyist for the tobacco company.5
There are much stronger tobacco and lobbying company links with the organising personnel at the heart of the BCCB.
The organisation’s day-to-day activities are the responsibility of the 11-member Executive Committee which features a president, executive director, two vice presidents, honorary treasurer and other posts. Of these posts, four are filled by people who work for lobbying companies.6
The two vice presidents both have tobacco links. One is Jacek Siwek who worked for various tobacco companies between 1991 and 2010, mostly BAT. His last job was head of corporate affairs at BAT. He now works for Asia Pulp and Paper.7 The other is Sean Murray who works at lobbying firm EUK Consulting. Murray previously worked for Philip Morris in Belgium handling public affairs.8 Meanwhile EUK Consulting currently has BAT as a client.
Both Siwek and Murray also sit on the BCCB Council which performs the board of directors role. Other posts on the Council are filled by industry representatives including one from Hill and Knowlton PR agency which has handled tobacco accounts.9 Siwek and Murray are also listed as Patron Members.


Three broad groups within the Chamber serve members’ interests in different ways. These are the EU Committee, Business in Belgium10 and the British Chamber New Generation.11
The EU Committee is the key networking and lobbying facility. The chamber describes its activities as:

regular meetings where key EU actors, such as Commissioners, are invited to address the Committee, Conferences, Breakfast Briefings with Directors General, visits to institutions such as the European Parliament in Strasbourg and national parliaments, and focus groups in the European Parliament in Brussels.12

The EU Committee is made out of eight task forces looking at various issues from financial services to transportation. All are run by industry representatives. Sean Murray from EUK Consulting chairs the task force looking at Business Security.13 Its tobacco-related activities are looked at in more detail below.

Tobacco Links

As well as having a tobacco lobbyist in the chair, the BCCB’s Business Security task force vice chair is Laszlo Labody who is Head of Tobacco Taxation, Europe at BAT and sits on the board of the European Smoking Tobacco Association.13
The task force’s stated objectives show that its interests are very important to tobacco companies:

to fight contraband and counterfeit which are hugely damaging for the revenue, profits and brand reputation of our member companies. The second is to promote the improved customs controls, border security and policing. Ultimately we are fighting organised crime which is making the fakes and running the smuggling rackets across Europe. Our task force members are derived from a wide sector base including Panasonic, BAE Systems, Accenture, Raytheon, BAT, Deutsche Post, DHL and eBay.13

For at least one tobacco company, the work of the task force has been very beneficial. According to BAT its support has allowed it to make good on a key corporate social responsibility commitment to tackle counterfeit products. The company’s website explains that the task force:

began its activities with an expert seminar at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in November 2008, followed by a conference in Brussels in December 2008 involving the European Commission, EU Member State officials and consumer representatives. In January 2009, the Task Force worked closely with Members of the European Parliament to organise a hearing in the European Parliament on ‘Combating Counterfeit and Organised Crime’. Feedback has been very positive and further Task Force activities have continued during 2009.14

The task force issues regular bulletins on its activities and the support offered by tobacco companies can be gauged by meetings such as that with Henrik Nielson, responsible for Border Management and Return Policy at the European Commission. That meeting took place at BAT offices.15
Tobacco company members have also sponsored dinners and talks organised by the Chamber. For instance a keynote speech on counterfeiting at a gala dinner was sponsored by BAT16 and a meeting on the transparency register was sponsored by JTI.17
One of the oldest documents in the tobacco legacy archive shows that the links between the Chamber and tobacco companies have a long history. In 1949 there was a request from the Chamber to BAT to send one of BAT‘s staff seconded to the Chamber to the Congo to be the Chamber’s representative there.18

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  1. BCCB, How does the Chamber Work?, BCCB website, Accessed September 2011
  2. BCCB, Objectives, BCCB website, Accessed September 2011
  3. BCCB, Members List, BCCB website, Accessed October 2011
  4. BCCB Patron Members, BCCB website, Accessed December 2011
  5. Association of Accredited Lobbyists to the European Parliament, Association of Accredited Lobbyists to the European Parliament, October 2007
  6. BCCB, BCCB Executive Committee, BCCB website, Accessed December 2011
  7. Jacek Siwek, LinkedIn profile, Accessed December 2011
  8. EUK Consulting Sean Murray, EUK Consulting website, Accessed December 2011
  9. There is numerous evidence of H&K’s relationship with tobacco stretching back to the 1950s. One historical summary is provided by Richard W. Pollay’s, Propaganda, Puffing and the Public Interest, Public Relations Review, Volume XVI, Number 3, Fall 1990.
  10. This is made up of corporate representatives and organises workshops or seminars as well as allowing members to network with each other. BCCB, Business in Belgium, BCCB website, Accessed December 2011
  11. This is a specific networking facility for young professionals. BCCB, New Generation, BCCB website, Accessed December 2011
  12. BCCB, EU Committee, BCCB website, Accessed December 2011
  13. abcBCCB, BCCB Business Security, BCCB website, Accessed December 2011
  14. BAT, EU Social Reporting, BAT website, Accessed October 2011
  15. BCCB, Business Security Task Force Events bulletin, BCCB website, Accessed October 2011
  16. BCCB, News bulletin, BCCB, Accessed October 2011
  17. BCCB, EU Committee Business Dinner, BCCB web site, Accessed October 2011
  18. BCCB, Notes of Chairman’s Meeting, 1949