Special Report

15 Biggest Employers in the World

Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT) is the world’s largest publicly traded employer, with approximately 2.2 million employees across of the globe, a number greater than the population of cities such as Houston, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.

In all, nearly 100 publicly-traded companies worldwide employ at least 175,000 workers each. These companies operate in a variety of industries, from fast food to energy to finance. They are also based throughout the world, from the United States to China to Russia to Germany. Based on figures from S&P Capital IQ, these are the largest employers in the world.

Employee count is just one indicator of a company’s size. The companies that employ the most workers are also extremely large by revenue. Of the top 15 global employers, five had revenues above $100 billion in their most recent fiscal year. Among these were Volkswagen, PetroChina (NYSE: PTR), and Wal-Mart Stores, which had more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue each.

Many of the largest publicly traded employers are in labor intensive sectors, relying more on their employees to drive the business than on such factors as technology and equipment. For instance, G4S and ISS are support service companies that outsource workers to various companies and institutions. These organizations rely on such workers to provide cleaning, security, and other services. Other companies, such as retailers and restaurants, rely on a large staff to run their stores. Wal-Mart Stores and McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) are examples of such companies.

Many of these companies have become large employers because they were once key government agencies. For example, the now private Deutsche Post was once the German government’s postal service. Russia’s Gazprom, as well as Industrial Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China were also entirely government-owned until recently. The Russian government remains the majority owner of Gazprom. Chinese state-owned agencies still held majority stakes in ABC and ICBC, as well as oil and gas giant PetroChina, as of the end of last year.

Many of these companies benefit from their location. Notably, three of the largest employers are based in China. The world’s second largest economy has a total population of over 1.3 billion people, the most of any country in the world. Another three companies, including IBM (NYSE: IBM), McDonalds, and Wal-Mart Stores, are based in the U.S., also one of the world’s most populous countries and the largest by GDP.

Many of these companies benefit from a truly dominant presence in their home market. The majority of Wal-Mart Stores’ 2.2 million employees are based in the U.S. Similarly, the majority of global service provider ISS’s business is located in Western Europe, where the company has more than 200,000 employees and generates 51% of its revenue.

Other top employers have a large global presence. Sodexo maintains operations in 80 countries. For companies like ISS and G4S, recent emerging market growth has driven revenue growth and increased headcount. A large global presence, especially in industries such as food, cleaning, and security, allows a company to provide easy outsourcing options for local employers.

To determine the 15 publicly traded companies with the most employees worldwide, 24/7 Wall St. used figures from S&P Capital IQ. We then independently verified employee totals from each of the top 15 companies. When companies distinguished between part-time and full-time employees in their financial statements, S&P Capital IQ calculated part-time employees as half of a “full-time equivalent” worker. When companies did not distinguish between part-time and full-time workers, all employees were treated as full-time by Capital IQ. Capital IQ converted revenue figures of foreign companies into dollars based on the date at the end of each company’s filings.

These are the biggest employers in the world.

15. Yue Yuen Industrial (Holdings) Limited
> Total employees: 413,000
> Revenue: $7.6 billion
> Country: Taiwan
> Industry: Footwear

Yue Yuen is a major manufacturer for international shoe brands, including Adidas, Reebok, and Nike, among others. Virtually all of Yue Yuen’s manufacturing takes place in three countries: mainland China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Alongside its manufacturing business, which accounted for nearly $5.9 billion in revenue, Yue Yuen also operates a retail network, which accounted for $1.7 billion in sales. Earlier this year, Yue Yuen workers at the company’s factory in Dongguan, China went on strike to protest the company’s benefit contribution policies. Yue Yuen agreed to increase contributions for workers in China’s Guangdong province.

14. Sodexo S.A.
> Total employees: 427,981
> Revenue: $24.3 billion
> Country: France
> Industry: Hospitality

Sodexo provides food, cleaning, security, and maintenance services for private corporations, government agencies, schools, hospitals, military bases, and correctional facilities. Today, Sodexo’s services reach an average of 75 million daily consumers at more than 33,000 locations in 80 countries across the globe. According to Sodexo, more than 95% of its employees have daily, direct contact with company clients. With such scope, it’s no wonder Sodexo employs almost 428,000 workers.

13. OAO Gazprom
> Total employees: 429,000
> Revenue: $156.6 billion
> Country: Russia
> Industry: Oil & gas

Gazprom is one of the world’s largest natural gas companies. The company is also majority-owned by the Russian government. By measures of sheer size, few businesses can match Gazprom. The company’s 429,000 employees help run Russia’s largest publicly traded entity by market capitalization. Additionally, the company claims to possess the largest reserves of natural gas in the world, as well as the world’s largest gas transmission system. Much of Europe relies on natural gas supplied by the company and a large portion Gazprom’s exports flow to Western Europe. Among the countries that rely on the company’s natural gas is Ukraine, a fact that has garnered significant attention as Ukraine and Russia’s relationship has deteriorated.

12. International Business Machines Corporation
> Total employees: 431,212
> Revenue: $99.7 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Technology & consulting

IBM is the third largest employer headquartered in the U.S., trailing only McDonald’s and Wal-Mart Stores. It had more than 431,000 employees worldwide as of the end of 2013. This total actually marks a slight drop from 2012, when the company had slightly more than 434,000 employees across the globe. IBM is widely forecast to cut even more jobs this year, as it lays off workers and shifts jobs to Lenovo as part of the sale of its x86 enterprise server business. This year’s layoffs are part of a $1 billion restructuring the company initiated earlier this year.

11. Deutsche Post AG
> Total employees: 435,285
> Revenue: $76.4 billion
> Country: Germany
> Industry: Logistics

Deutsche Post is the former postal agency of the German government. In 1995, the company, along with Deutsche Postbank and Deutsche Telekom, began the process of transitioning from government agencies into private companies. In 2000, Deutsche Post became publicly traded. Today, the company claims it is the world’s leading logistics company. Logistics and postal service companies are often large and have many employees. In fact, the United States Postal Service, which is part of the U.S. government, had 618,000 total employees last year. Unlike the USPS, however, Deutsche Post is profitable. While its American counterpart posted a net loss of nearly $5 billion, Deutsche Post reported more than 2 billion euro in profit last year.

10. McDonald’s Corp.
> Total employees: 440,000
> Revenue: $28.1 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Restaurants

McDonald’s had some 440,000 employees in its corporate offices and company-owned restaurants at the end of its last fiscal year. It is not clear, however, how many of that total are part-time workers. As a proxy, roughly 86% of employees at competitor Yum! Brands were part-time last year. McDonald’s employee total also does not include workers at franchisee-owned restaurants. In total, 1.9 million people work for either McDonald’s or its franchises.

9. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited
> Total employees: 441,902
> Revenue: $ 91.1 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Banking

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is the largest commercial bank in China by assets, loans, and total deposits. It holds nearly 20 trillion yuan in total assets while providing banking services to the most popular country in the world and its rapidly growing economy. The bank employs more than 440,000 workers. ICBC provides a vast number of universal banking services necessitating a network of employees to service its 10 trillion yuan in total loans, as well as its large customer base. In 2006, ICBC’s IPO raised more than $19 billion, the world’s largest until it was surpassed by Agricultural Bank of China’s IPO in 2010.

8. ISS A/S
> Total employees: 464,184
> Revenue: $14.5 billion
> Country: Denmark
> Industry: Diversified services

ISS, which began as a security services firm in 1901, has since expanded into facility management as well as cleaning, property, and catering services. The company, based in Denmark, provides outsourcing activities in more than 50 countries. Although not one of the largest companies by revenue, ISS operates in labor-intensive services sectors, necessitating employing many workers. The multinational company employs over 533,000 employees. Of these, 74% are full-time and 26% are part-time employees, leading to a full-time equivalent of 464,184. Staffing costs for ISS make up almost 70% of its total operating costs.

7. Agricultural Bank of China Limited
> Total employees: 478,980
> Revenue: $68.2 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Banking

In 2010, Agricultural Bank of China held the largest IPO in the world, raising more than $19.2 billion. The bank’s market presence likely contributes to its large number of employees. Agricultural Bank of China has 23,547 domestic branches serving the largest population in the world. As of 2013, the bank had 14 trillion yuan in assets. Although it is publicly traded, the bank is considered one of China’s big-four state-owned banks, alongside ICBC, Bank of China, and China Construction Bank. As of last year, most shares in Agricultural Bank of China were still owned by the Chinese government.

6. Compass Group plc
> Total employees: 506,699
> Revenue: $28.4 billion
> Country: United Kingdom
> Industry: Diversified services

Compass Group is a food service company operating at roughly 50,000 sites in 50 countries. Helping to provide these services are more than 500,000 employees, working for Compass Group at office buildings, schools, sports venues, and even oil rigs. A large share of the company’s employees, over 200,000 in all, worked in North America as of the end of last year. Because of its high reliance on its people, Compass Group spent quite a sizable share of its costs on employees. In 2013, operating costs at the company totalled roughly 16.4 billion pounds, of which 8.1 billion pounds went to employee compensation such as wages, social security payments, and pension costs.

5. PetroChina Co. Ltd.
> Total employees: 544,083
> Revenue: $373.0 billion
> Country: China
> Industry: Oil & gas

PetroChina was founded in 1999 after the restructuring of China National Petroleum Corporation, a state-owned entity that still owns more than 86% of PetroChina. Today, PetroChina is one of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization. It is also China’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. Last year, the company’s output from production included 932.9 million barrels of oil, as well as 2.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Nearly half of its employees work in exploration and production, while the rest are responsible for marketing, refining, research, and other operations.

4. Volkswagen AG
> Total employees: 555,097
> Revenue: $271.3 billion
> Country: Germany
> Industry: Manufacturing

Volkswagen, one of the world’s top car manufacturers, built more than 9.7 million cars in 2013. Auto manufacturing is a labor intensive business. Rival Toyota Motors had 338,875 full-time equivalent employees at the end of last year, while General Motors’ headcount was roughly 219,000. However, no automaker had more employees than Volkswagen, with 545,596 active workers, and 9,501 workers in the passive phase of their partial retirement. Historically, the company’s management has viewed worker input as critical, and the company’s works council wields considerable influence. The works council forced management to dismiss its consultants out of concern that efforts to cut costs would disproportionately center around eliminating jobs.

3. Randstad Holding NV
> Total employees: 595,730
> Revenue: $22.8 billion
> Country: The Netherlands
> Industry: Human resources

Randstad is a multinational human resource company. While Randstad has just 28,030 corporate employees in 3,161 branches, a small number relative to others on the list, these employees helped place an average over 567,000 employees in various positions as of 2013. In many cases, the company takes responsibility for recruiting, interviewing, and testing the candidates that it places. Randstad’s services also extend to administering payroll and medical insurance services for client companies.

2.G4S plc
> Total employees: 618,000
> Revenue: $12.3 billion
> Country: United Kingdom
> Industry: Security services

G4S is the world’s largest security company, with operations in 120 countries worldwide. Last year, the company had over 7.4 billion pounds, or over $12 billion, in revenue. Underpinning G4S’s recent growth is its continued development in emerging markets, where revenue growth was 16%. Operating in the generally labor intensive security services industry, G4S is the largest publicly-traded employer in Europe, and the second-largest worldwide. Secure solutions, accounting for 75% of G4S’s revenue, includes risk management consulting, monitoring of security systems, and manned security services. Additionally, the company’s cash solutions services include the transportation of cash using trained personnel.

1. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
> Total employees: 2,200,000
> Revenue: $476.3 billion
> Country: United States
> Industry: Retail

Wal-Mart Stores is the world’s largest employer. The retailer operates Walmart, Sam’s Club, and other chains, which together employ some 2.2 million people globally. Of that total, roughly 1.4 million were employed in the U.S. alone at the end of the company’s fiscal year. This accounted for notable share of the U.S. labor force, which totaled slightly more than 156 million people as of July. Outside the U.S., the retailer employs more than 200,000 people in Mexico, and nearly 170,000 at its Asda chain in the U.K. However, the company has also inspired fierce debate over its labor practices, with some claiming that Wal-Mart’s pay is too low to constitute a livable wage, and others arguing that Wal-Mart provides jobs to low-skilled workers with few options.

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