The world’s 10 largest employers

Inside The Volkswagen AG "Kombi" Microbus Assembly Palnt Before Production Ends
Workers assemble Volkswagen AG camper vans, or microbuses, known as "Kombis" in Brazil, on the production line at Volkswagen's Anchieta plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. speaks during an event to mark the final series of the company's classic camper van, or microbus, known as the "Kombi" in Brazil at the Anchieta assembly plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. The Kombi which has been made in Brazil since 1957, ends production this year. Photographer: Paulo Fridman/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Paulo Fridman — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Global organizations have left the recession behind as they focus on positioning themselves aggressively for growth—and building a workforce big enough to sustain their business while staving off the competition is integral to future success.

Fortune has compiled its first-ever list of the world’s 10 biggest employers among publicly listed companies, based on latest fiscal-year-end figures from FactSet Research Systems, annual reports, and other publicly available information. In the cases where companies provide a specific breakdown of part-time and full-time employee figures, we count part-time employees as half of a “full-time equivalent” worker. If companies do not provide a breakdown, all employees are considered full-time.

On our list, size matters: Of the top 10 employers, six had revenues above $100 billion in their most recent fiscal year. These global giants hail from a variety of industries including retail, business services, energy, and banking, some of which are more labor-intensive than others, thus dictating a need for more employees. The companies are based throughout the world, representing six countries; China is the home base for three of them, followed by the U.S. and the U.K., each with two on the list. We included efficiency data for these companies, measured by revenue per employee based on 2013 annual figures. A few of these firms may surprise you, while others are well known for their size and reach.

1. Wal-Mart Stores

Employees: 2.2 million
Country: United States
Industry: Retail
Sales: $476.3 billion
Market value: $245.8 billion
Revenue per employee: $216,500

Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) is the world’s largest retailer, with nearly 11,000 stores in 27 countries. The company was founded in 1962 by Arkansas businessman Sam Walton; the Walton family remains one of the richest families in the world, with a 50% stake in the company. Out of its 2.2 million employees worldwide, about 1.4 million work in the U.S. at the end of the company’s fiscal year. Outside of the U.S., Wal-Mart has a large presence in Mexico, and its Canadian footprint is growing. International revenues amounted to $136.5 billion, 29% of its total revenue. For years, labor activists have criticized and targeted Wal-Mart for employing an excess of part-time workers for low wages.

2. Hon Hai Precision Industry

Employees of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. work along a production line in the Longhua Science and Technology Park, also known as Foxconn City, in Shenzhen, China.

Employees: 1.1 million
Country: Taiwan
Industry: Electronics
Sales: $133.2 billion
Market value: $47.3 billion
Revenue per employee: $120,000

Hon Hai Precision is the parent company of Foxconn Technology, the world's largest electronics manufacturer and the lone technology company on the list of biggest employers. Founded in 1974 by CEO Terry Gou, the Asian tech giant now assembles everything from smartphones to display panels for customers such as Apple (AAPL), Cisco (CSCO), Dell, and Sony (SNE). Among Foxconn's clients, Apple is the largest, and contributes about 40 % of the company's revenue. Earlier in the year, Hon Hai announced it hired 100,000 people in mainland China, the firm's largest single hiring spree in China, to help meet production demands for Apple’s iPhone 6. In 2011, Hon Hai proposed introducing one million robots to its factories in three years, replacing human workers. The addition of more robots to the assembly team may be the company's attempt to improve working conditions, for which the company has been criticized in the past. Three years have passed and Foxconn is hiring on a large scale, indicating that its quest for automation has yet to be accomplished. Hon Hai has added more than 270,000 employees to its payroll in the past three years.

3. G4S

The logo of G4S Plc is seen on an employee's uniform outside the company's headquarters in Crawley, U.K., on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. G4S Plc, the world's largest security provider, agreed to acquire ISS Holdings A/S for 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) to add cleaning and other services and accelerate expansion in emerging markets. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Employees: 618,000
Country: United Kingdom
Industry: Security Services
Sales: $11.6 billion
Market value: $6.3 billion
Revenue per employee: $18,800

G4S (GFSZY) is the world’s largest security company with a massive global footprint spanning 125 countries. The result of the 2004 merger of two security giants, Group 4 Falck and Securicor, G4S is now the largest publicly traded employer in Europe, and boasts a strong and consistent track record of performance. It is a leading provider of security solutions, offering a combination of personnel, project management, risk management, and technology solutions to commercial and government organizations, which account for 75% of its revenue. Demand for its services remained strong in 2013, particularly in emerging markets where revenue rose by 16%. G4S is the largest private employer in Africa, with 110,000 employees in over 29 countries across the continent.

4. Volkswagen

Workers assemble Volkswagen AG camper vans in Brazil.

Employees: 572,800
Country: Germany
Industry: Motor Vehicles
Sales: $261.5 billion
Market value: $101.3 billion
Revenue per employee: $456,600

Volkswagen (VLKAY) reported sales of 9.73 million vehicles worldwide in 2013, putting the company in second place for the year, well behind Toyota (TOYOF) and slightly ahead of General Motors (GM). Volkswagen is the biggest employer of the three, but not the most efficient: in terms of productivity measured by revenue per employee, Volkswagen lags behind both of its rivals. The Group operates 107 production plants in 19 European countries and another eight countries in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Every weekday, 572,800 employees worldwide produce some 39,350 vehicles.

5. PetroChina

Employees: 544,083
Country: China
Industry: Oil & Gas
Sales: $351.0 billion
Market value: $225.6 billion
Revenue per employee: $645,000

PetroChina (PTR) is China’s largest oil and gas company and the world’s second most valuable energy firm after Exxon Mobil (XOM). Founded in 1999, PetroChina is the publicly traded arm of the state-run China National Petroleum Corp., which owns 86% of the firm. Half of its employees work in exploration and production, while the rest are responsible for marketing and refining. The oil giant has increased its workforce by more than 13% over the past five years, adding over 66,000 jobs in that period. In terms of productivity, PetroChina makes about $566,000 less than its competitor Sinopec in revenue per employee.

6. Compass Group

Upper Crust baguettes on display at an outlet in Euston trani station, Central London. (Newscast Limited via AP Images)

Employees: 506,699
Country: United Kingdom
Industry: Food Services
Sales: $27.4 billion
Market value: $27.0 billion
Revenue per employee: $54,000

Compass Group is the world’s largest contract food service company, generating 90% of its revenue from more than 50 countries outside the UK. It serves four billion meals a year at 50,000 sites, including office buildings, schools, and sports venues. Compass's operations in North America account for 40% of its workforce and generate 47% of total revenue. The company has increased its workforce by more than 30% over the past five years, adding more than118,000 jobs.

7. Agricultural Bank of China

--FILE--Chinese clerks serve a customer at a branch of ABC (Agricultural Bank of China) in Qionghai city, south China's Hainan province, 16 January 2014. Agricultural Bank of China has got approval from the China Securities Regulatory Commission for its proposal to issue 800 million preferred shares of up to 80 billion yuan (US$13 billion).

Employees: 496,365
Country: China
Industry: Banks
Sales: $115.4 billion
Market value: $150.4 billion
Revenue per employee: $232,000

Agricultural Bank of China is one of China’s “big four” commercial banks, alongside ICBC, Bank of China, and China Construction Bank. It is the biggest employer among the four banks and ranks first in market presence—with 23,547 domestic branches serving the largest population in the world—but is the least productive in terms of revenue per employee. The massive lender went public in 2010, pulling in $22.1 billion from Hong Kong and Shanghai in what was the world’s largest IPO until Alibaba’s $25 billion offering this year.

8. ISS A/S

Employees: 464,183*
Country: Denmark
Industry: Commercial Services
Sales: $14.0 billion
Market value: $5.1 billion
Revenue per employee: $30,100
*full-time equivalent

The world’s largest cleaning company went public in March of 2014 in Denmark’s biggest initial public offering in 20 years. ISS was founded in Copenhagen in 1901 as a small security company with 20 night watchmen. Since then, it has expanded to offer a full range of services, including cleaning, catering, and property and facilities management. The Danish company is not very well known around the world, but is notable for two reasons: not only is ISS one of the world's largest employers, but it also has an employee turnover rate of only 52% versus the average 65% seen in the facility services sector.

9. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China

A worker of an Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC) branch counts money as she serves a customer in the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade zone during a media trip on September 24, 2014. Concerns over China's economy -- a key driver of global growth -- have intensified following a string of lacklustre recent data, with economists calling for authorities to take further action to kickstart growth. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Employees: 441,902
Country: China
Industry: Banks
Sales: $148.8 billion
Market value: $230.7 billion
Revenue per employee: $336,700

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is the second of China’s “big four” commercial banks to appear on the list. It is the biggest China bank by sales, profits, assets, and market value, as well as the leader in productivity. Its 2006 IPO, worth $21.9 billion, was the largest in the world until it was surpassed by Agricultural Bank of China's public offering in 2010. ICBC’s colossal size fuels its need for a massive workforce: with business coverage across the six continents, ICBC provides extensive financial products and services to 4.7 million corporate customers and 432 million personal customers through its network of 19,000 locations worldwide.

10. McDonald’s

Employees: 440,000
Country: United States
Industry: Food Services
Sales: $28.1 billion
Market value: $91.9 billion
Revenue per employee: $63,900

McDonald’s (MCD) is one of the world’s most valuable brands and the second U.S. company to make the list. Its workforce total includes employees in its corporate offices and company-owned restaurants, but excludes workers at its 29,179 franchisee-owned restaurants. Despite its formidable brand equity, McDonald’s is facing a slew of problems across the globe as it struggles with growth, menu expansion, labor issues, food quality issues in China, forced closures in Russia, and declining demand in the U.S. One element of its turnaround strategy is a plan to install self-ordering kiosks and mobile ordering at its restaurants—a move that should improve operating efficiency but will reduce its headcount.

Read Fallen Arches from the Dec. 1, 2014 issue.

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