Workplace Issues

Why Are the World’s Biggest Employers So Darned Big?

Besides being in labor-intensive industries, many of the world's 15 biggest employers were part of government or located in a place where big is be...
Iris DorbianAugust 27, 2014

How desirable is it for a company to be big? In the case of Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s largest publicly traded employer, with about 2.2 million employees, the answer — on at least the strength of the retailing behemoth’s ability to negotiate rock-bottom prices from its smaller suppliers — is: pretty darn desirable.

Can_factory_workers_stamping_out_end_discs,_published_1909Yet the current emphasis on just-in-time supply chains and lean manufacturing also suggests that smaller indeed may be more beautiful. The equally valid points of view on both sides of the size issue indicate, however, that the best answer may be “it depends.”

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Better to look at the more answerable question of what is it about big employers that make them hire so many more people than their peers? And, judging from the findings of a new study conducted by financial information provider S&P Capital IQ and published on the financial news site 24/7 Wall Street, the answer might be simply that it’s in their nature to do so.

In fact, the study, which examined nearly 100 public firms worldwide that have at least 175,000 workers each in business sectors ranging from fast food to finance, found that there are certain characteristics that the 15 biggest employers have in common.

The most self-evident trait among the world’s largest employers is their labor intensiveness: their dependence on employees to help run their business. That’s much different, of course, from firms that rely on technology or equipment to steer their operations.

The study thus finds that some of the biggest employers, such as support-service firms like G4S, in the United Kingdom, and ISS, in Denmark, provide wide varieties of workers to companies looking to trim their workforces. Or, in the case of retailers like Wal-Mart or fast-food chains like McDonald’s,  it’s them employees who operate the stores.

Another trait is that some current big employers were once part of a government apparatus. “For example, the now private Deutsche Post was once the German government’s postal service,” writes 24/7 Wall Street. Further, “Russia’s Gazprom, as well as Industrial Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China, were also entirely government-owned until recently.”

Another factor that has helped increase the employee size of the biggest firms is their location, notes the news site. The report contends that three of the largest employers are based in China. It’s no coincidence that the country is  the world’s second largest economy, not that it has a population of over 1.3 billion, more than any other country.

Further, the United States, which has the world’s largest GDP and is one of the globe’s most populous nations, is the headquarters of three of the 15 biggest employers (IBM, McDonalds and Wal-Mart), according to the study. Russia and Germany, also possessed of huge populations, are home to some of the largest employers in the world.

The study also revealed  that “of the top 15 global employers, five had revenues above $100 billion in their most recent fiscal year.” Along with Wal-Mart, these firms included Volkswagen and PetroChina, all of which “had more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue each.”

According to the article, the world’s 15 biggest companies, in ascending order, are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: 15 Biggest Employers in the World

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