9 October is World Post Day, a chance to consider today’s global postal network, and highlight current developments and challenges.
This year the Universal Post Union (UPU) celebrates its 141st anniversary. Whilst looking back on a proud history, its focus is clearly on the future, reengineering postal services to meet the demands of our digital world: the Istanbul World Postal Strategy is its blueprint for developing the global postal network through to 2020.
The UPU is a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating the global postal network on behalf of its 192 members, the world's nations. More than 5 million employees working in over 660,000 post offices all over the world handle a total of 440 billion letter-post items and 6 billion parcels each year within the world’s largest physical distribution network.
Fundamental & universal rights, such as the privacy of correspondence and the universal service obligation, covering delivery of letter-post items up to 2 KG in weight and parcel-post items up to 30 KG, are anchored in the UPU treaties. As is the special role of the 192 national postal administrations entrusted by the UPU with fulfilling the rights and duties as laid out in the UPU Convention.
As well as profiting from special customs regulations, postal operators also enjoy the right to provide postal financial services. These currently account for the majority of global money orders, largely used by workers sending funds home from abroad - an important contribution to GDP in threshold countries.
The Istanbul World Postal Strategy follows three key goals, to;
As well as traditional postal and postal financial services, the UPU is increasingly focusing on providing secure, electronic postal services. They involve all the same rights and duties as the traditional, analogue letter-post services on which they are based.
The extension of postal service provision into the
internet is being actively driven by all 192 UPU member states. In 2012 the UPU
launched its new, digital postal network, run and managed by the UPU member
states with electronic postal services offered under the Top Level Domain
These electronic postal services include:
Extending postal service provision into the digital world has been accompanied by a clear tightening of postal data protection regulations, covering both e-commerce services and electronic postal services.
As a result, postal operators may only use the personal data they gather about users for the purpose for which the information was gathered - to identify the postal service user. They must uphold the confidentiality and security of personal data on users, tell their customers how their personal data was used, and why it was gathered.
The UPU was designed as a global network in which its members enjoy equal rights and privileges, and are bound to the same treaties and obligations.
However, technological developments themselves can’t make the UPU fit for the future if it does not remain committed to retaining this level playing field, actively promoting and supporting its model of cooperation amongst equals.
Fundamental changes need to be made to today’s regime of termination fees so that the delivery of letter post and parcel post items reflects the needs of customers ordering, sending and returning e-commerce goods and services worldwide.
Larger and more powerful UPU members are taking advantage of today’s system of terminal dues and inward land rates, enjoying financial advantages from being assigned to termination groups which neither reflect their actual economic status, nor the nature and spirit of the Universal Postal Union.
At the 26th UPU Congress is Istanbul in 2016 nothing less than the existence of the global postal network is at stake.
Either it will succeed in returning the UPU to a partnership of equals, protecting the rights of communication and integrity of its users within a secure network, for the benefit of each and every one of us – the senders and receivers.
Or it will disintegrate into a network in which a few major players force through bilateral and multilateral contracts designed specifically to exclude the majority of postal services and their users from any role in shaping the network, in order to boost their own bottom line and that of their private investors. Should this happen, we all lose.
Watch this space.
 World Post Day is held each year on 9 October to mark the founding of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in Switzerland's capital Bern in 1874. World Post Day was declared a commemoration day at the UPU congress in Tokyo, in 1969. Since that date, every country in the world celebrates this occasion. Postal operators in many countries use this day to present new postal products and services, organise exhibitions of stamps, and issue special first editions. Many postal operators host open days at post offices and postal museums, run conferences, seminars and workshops, as well as initiating other cultural, sporting and leisure activities. Working together with UNESCO, the UPU has run an annual letter-writing competition for young people since 1980, handing over prizes to the winners on World Post Day.