The Universal Postal Union (UPU) was founded in 1874 and is the second oldest international organization. The UPU was brought into the United Nations system under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on July 1, 1948. UPU Headquarters is located in Bern, Switzerland. 189 member countries participate in a forum for cooperation between postal services that includes setting rules for international mail exchanges and other postal policies. The UPU is a non-political organization thus it does not interfere with domestic postal issues such as Posts (ie. Canada Post, United States Postal Service) setting their own postage rates, volume of postage stamps to issue, etc. The Universal Postal Congress is the legislative body, the Council of Administration ensures continuity of the UPU's work between Congresses, the Postal Operations Council is the technical and operational body of the UPU, and the International Bureau (UPU Headquarters) acts as a logistical and technical support apparatus. French remains the official language of the UPU. English was added as a working language of the International Bureau in 1994.

Origin of the UPU

Prior to the creation of the UPU, exchange of mail between countries was governed by bilateral postal agreements. By the 19th century, the agreements had become overly complex and prevented efficient growth in the trade and commercial sectors. Reform began in England in 1840, when Sir Rowland Hill introduced a system where postage on letters had to be prepaid and uniform rates charged for all letters of a certain weight in the domestic service. In 1863, United States Postmaster General Montgomery Blair called a conference in Paris. Delegates from 15 European and American countries succeeded in laying down general principles for mutual agreements. However, the conference failed to settle matters relating to an international postal agreement. The task was left to a senior postal official from the North German Confederation named Heinrich von Stephan who created a plan for an international postal union and convinced the Swiss Government to convene a conference. The conference in Bern, Switzerland on September 15, 1874 was attended by representatives from 22 nations and on October 9, 1874 the Treaty of Bern established the General Postal Union which was later renamed to the Universal Postal Union due to increased membership. A single postal territory was created thus allowing for the efficient growth of international mail.

UPU Mission Statement

The mission of the UPU is to foster the sustainable development of quality universal, efficient accessible postal services in order to facilitate communication among the people of the world by:
  • Guaranteeing the free circulation of postal items through an interconnected single postal territory
  • Promoting the adoption of fair and common standards and the application of technology
  • Cooperation and interaction among stakeholders
  • Facilitating the effective provision of technical cooperation
  • Ensuring that the changing needs of customers are addressed

UPU Logo

The UPU Logo was inspired by the Universal Postal Union monument erected at the beginning of the 20th century in Bern, Switzerland. The bronze and granite statue commemorating the Union's founding was unveiled on October 4, 1909. The statue depicts five messengers who symbolize the five continents. All messengers are holding hands around a globe. The logo is a copy of the monument and appeared for the first time on the cover of Union Postale in 1951. The UPU's Executive Council began using the logo in 1967.

UPU and the United Nations

On July 1, 1948, the UPU became a specialized agency of the United Nations operating under the Economic and Social Council. The UPU interacts with other U.N. programs such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) relating to postal development and the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) relating to easier shipment of drugs in the mail. The UPU also works closely with other international organizations such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and INTERPOL in order to facilitate the flow of international mail. The UPU is financed jointly by the member countries belonging to the UPU based on a contribution class system. Since 1992, the UPU has maintained its annual budget at or below the level of inflation. The UPU has the smallest annual budget in the U.N. system, approximately 35 million Swiss francs (approx. 27 million USD as of writeup).


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