Universal Music Group pulls out of Russia amid China expansion

Universal Music Group (UMG) has become the latest music industry company to cease operations in Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Today’s biggest record label has just removed Universal Music Russia from its official list of global divisions, and superiors confirmed in a widely circulated statement that UMG has suspended “all operations” in Russia “effective immediate”. As of this writing, neither Warner Music Group nor Sony Music Entertainment appear to have made any announcement regarding their own Russian offices.

But as mentioned, several companies in the music industry – and companies outside the music space – have also pulled out of Russia.

Spotify has closed its office in the country of more than 144 million people, and the premium version of the Stockholm-based platform is not available for purchase in Russia due to “new external restrictions related to our main suppliers of payment”. Today, PRS for Music “officially suspended” its relationship with the Society of Russian Authors, while McDonald’s, Starbucks, General Electric, Pepsi and Coca-Cola announced they would reduce operations in the European state.

In its previously underlined statement on the decision to withdraw from Russia, Universal Music Group also said it supported relief initiatives for “refugees in the region.”

“With immediate effect, we are suspending all operations in Russia and closing our offices there,” UMG said on the matter. “We urge an end to the violence in Ukraine as soon as possible. We adhere to international sanctions and, along with our employees and artists, have worked with groups from various countries (including the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Slovakia, Germany, Czech Republic and Hungary ) to support humanitarian aid efforts to provide emergency relief to refugees in the region.

Amid these steps to help those suffering from the conflict in Ukraine, Universal Music Group is aggressively trying to strengthen its reach in China, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) bans free speech, arbitrarily imprisons activists and commits many other gross violations of human rights.

Shortly before debuting on Euronext Amsterdam last year, the Big Three label detailed a “significant expansion of its recorded music operations in China”. The opening of a Universal Music Publishing Group office in Shanghai followed in November; in the corresponding press release, the leaders touted the strong relationships they had forged with CCP officials. Another “significant expansion” came last week with the launch of Capitol Records China in Beijing.

It is unclear whether public pressure will ultimately force Universal Music Group to rethink its decidedly hypocritical stance on maintaining close ties with the CCP, which has detained and subjected to forced labor in Xinjiang more than a million Uyghurs, d ethnic Kazakhs, ethnic Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups,” according to the State Department.

But at a time when more companies than ever are putting profits before people and prioritizing their image over concrete actions – UMG even has a “social responsibility” page on its website – the prospect of significant change seems distant. China’s fast-growing music industry earned seventh place on IFPI’s list of top markets in 2020, ranking ahead of Canada and behind South Korea.

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