Largest employers in the world

Written by:
December 10, 2019
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Largest employers in the world

When you think of some of the world's most recognizable brands, what comes to mind? McDonald's? Starbucks? Nike? Sure, all of those companies can be found in small towns in the Midwest and even on the streets of Budapest. But though those companies may have thousands of locations around the world, that doesn't mean they employ the most workers.

In the following slideshow, Stacker lists the 50 companies that employed the most people globally as of the end of the fiscal year 2018. The list includes both public and private employers, ranging from for-profit retail companies to citizen-serving government agencies. To create the list, Stacker used data from Statista released on July 31, 2019, and checked information from company websites, primary sources, and recent news articles.

In the 21st century, China emerged as an economic giant and notches several companies on the list—companies that employ millions of total workers around the world. The United Kingdom earns a few mentions, as do the United States and Russia. When it comes to specific industries, Telecom companies have become major employers over the past two decades, but there are still a bunch of good, old-fashioned conglomerates that are always on the search for new blood.

These companies didn't become powerful by sheer luck. In some cases, factors such as war or government restrictions affected how future markets were shaped. Other businesses may have just struck while the iron was hot, achieving rapid growth in a relatively short period (a majority of companies on the list were founded within the past half-century).

As for the biggest employer in the world? It may come as a surprise when you have names like Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs dominating business headlines, but you can never underestimate the impact small-town America plays on the global economy.

Read on to see how many employees work for the world's biggest companies.

#50. CK Hutchison Holdings

- Total employees (2018): 300,000

This conglomerate’s roots took shape in Hong Kong in the 1800s. Today, CK Hutchison Holdings has various arms in the telecom and retail industries, but it remains to be seen if the current political unrest in Hong Kong will affect the company’s future performance.

#49. UnitedHealth Group

- Total employees (2018): 300,000

UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnesota, offers health care services to customers in all 50 states. After a market dip, UnitedHealth rebounded recently. Soon, the provider will open up Medicare centers in Walgreens stores.

#48. China State Construction Engineering

- Total employees (2018): 302,827

This Beijing company has its reach in real estate development and investment, making it one of the largest construction companies in the world. China State Construction Engineering recently contributed to massive buildings in Africa, showing its impact on a worldwide level.

#47. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone

- Total employees (2018): 303,351

This Tokyo-based telecommunications giant is one of the biggest companies in Japan. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) is even looking into cybersecurity and autonomous vehicles, with an eye toward investing in Israel. That’s not all; NTT just invested $5.5 billion into power- distribution networks to supply electricity to hospitals and factories.

#46. Rosneft Oil

- Total employees (2018): 308,000

Rosneft claims to be the “the largest global public oil and gas corporation.” Founded and based in Moscow, Rosneft explores, appraises, produces, and sells oil around the world. Recently, Rosneft collaborated with Venezuelan companies affected by American sanctions, and even may expand to India.

#45. Nestlé

- Total employees (2018): 308,000

Many Americans recognize Nestlé for its chocolate products, but this Swiss company grew into a world power across several industries. Gerber, Purina, and San Pellegrino are a few of the offerings under the Nestlé umbrella. However, Nestlé has come under fire for its bottled water practices, being accused of illegally drawing water from creeks.

#44. Samsung Electronics

- Total employees (2018): 309,630

Samsung is one of South Korea’s most well-known chaebols. A chaebol is a family-controlled conglomerate—think Hyundai or Doosan. Such conglomerates are influential throughout South Korean industry and even government. With its successful Galaxy smartphones, Samsung became a true rival to Apple.

#43. Bank of China

- Total employees (2018): 310,119

Founded in 1912, Bank of China served as China’s central bank until 1949. During the second half of the 20th century, the bank focused on foreign investment. Today, Bank of China is one of four state-owned banks in China and has major headquarters in Beijing and Hong Kong.

#42. Exor Group

- Total employees (2018): 314,790

Exor, based in the Netherlands, has investments in some of the most prestigious names worldwide. Ferrari, The Economist, and Juventus football club are just a few of the brands in Exor’s portfolio. Exor, which also is the top shareholder of Fiat Chrysler, may soon add Peugeot to its portfolio.

#41. Deutsche Bahn

- Total employees (2018): 318,528

German-based Deutsche Bahn is known for its fast and relatively inexpensive trains, although the rise of a budget bus industry has created some competition. Deutsche Bahn continues to grow, opening new training centers, but is experiencing some uncertainty as its chief financial officer reportedly will step down.

#40. Tesco

- Total employees (2018): 321,490

Tesco is a British grocery staple, with locations throughout Europe. It has evolved to create arms in banking and mobile phones, and in 2018 showed its biggest growth in seven years. Much of that success was because Tesco acquired Booker Cash and Carry, a U.K. convenience store company.

#39. China Energy Investment

- Total employees (2018): 338,472

The 2017 merger of China Guodian Corporation and Shenhua Group created China Energy Investment. Today, the company works in coal, hydropower, transportation, thermal power, and other fields, with headquarters in Beijing. Recently, the company forged strong ties with Greece.

#38. Auchan Holding

- Total employees (2018): 340,577

Retail, banking, and commercial real estate make up the triumvirate of pillars for Auchan Holding. Based in France, Auchan was directly affected by a series of protests in recent years that closed shops, with the company losing an estimated 140 million euros in 2018 sales.

#37. China Railway Construction

- Total employees (2018): 356,326

This Chinese construction corporation was established in 2007 in Beijing. However, China Railway Construction influences the rail industry beyond China, as it has built train depots throughout Asia, including a planned $534 million facility in Singapore.

#36. FedEx

- Total employees (2018): 359,530

FedEx was founded as courier service Federal Express in the early 1970s. Today, this shipping giant is based in Memphis, with hundreds of brick and mortar stores that supply everything from shipping supplies to copiers, as well as internet service. There are even FedEx delivery bots that can self-deliver items.

#35. Target

- Total employees (2018): 360,000

Target is synonymous with Minnesota much like Prince and lakes. Founded as Dayton Dry Goods Company in 1902, Target now has locations in all 50 states, selling food, clothes, appliances, and much more. The stock price for Target is regularly above 100, and its wide range of products and service quality helped the box store survive amid Amazon’s online rise.

#34. Carrefour

- Total employees (2018): 363,862

Carrefour opened its first supermarket in 1960, and soon expanded worldwide. Particularly strong business in Brazil and China helped this French company sustain success. Carrefour also appears to be closing in on a partnership with Fnac Darty, a leading electronics group.

#33. UPS

- Total employees (2018): 364,575

Rapper Notorious B.I.G. once rhymed: “Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring.” Although meant to be a diss toward other rappers living less luxurious lives, Biggie was prescient, as UPS is one of the biggest employers in the courier world. Based in Georgia, UPS has been on the cutting edge of delivery services, even using sensors to track medical packages.

#32. China Construction Bank

- Total employees (2018): 366,996

Founded in 1954 with headquarters in Beijing, China Construction Bank is a leader in its country in financial and banking services. However, its stock has dropped of late, with concerns over China-U.S. relations.

#31. Toyota Motor

- Total employees (2018): 370,870

Despite an industry lull, Toyota Motor continues to see growth. Founded in Japan in the 1930s, Toyota expanded to the United States in 1957, where its variety of automobiles and other vehicles have become common sights on American roads.

#30. Edeka Zentrale

- Total employees (2018): 376,000

Edeka is not your average grocery store company. The German brand created stores specifically for shoppers 50 or older, and even sold cars in the aisles. Edeka also has quite the advertising campaign, with ads going viral even in the United States.

#29. Ping An Insurance

- Total employees (2018): 376,900

Ping An began as a joint-stock insurance company, but is now a full-fledged personal finance servicer. This Chinese company’s name means “safe” and “well,” but it has expanded beyond China’s borders to provide security for international clients. More recently, Ping An started a financial technology arm with a highly anticipated IPO coming to the United States.

#28. Siemens

- Total employees (2018): 379,000

Siemens opened in 1840s Germany primarily as a telegraph company, but now is involved in a variety of fields including health care. Digital energy and transport have become priorities for Siemens. Not everything is rosy for the company, though, as it was recently named in alleged bribery deals with entities in China.

#27. IBM

- Total employees (2018): 381,100

IBM, with headquarters in Westchester County, New York, was once a massive force in the computer world. The 2010s saw a steady loss of revenue, but new mainframe computers and artificial intelligence projects could signal a rebound for one of the only major computer companies not based near Silicon Valley.

#26. Pacific Construction Group

- Total employees (2018): 387,525

Founded in 1986 in China as YinJiang Company, Pacific Construction Group helped shape many of its home country’s national highways, parks, and skyscrapers. Pacific has recently attempted to break into Ukraine and the Balkans.

#25. Berkshire Hathaway

- Total employees (2018): 389,000

Led by Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway maintains one of the more diverse portfolios in American business. GEICO, Duracell, and Fruit of the Loom are some of Berkshire Hathaway’s properties, and the company has notable investments in Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo. Buffett’s company doesn’t own everything, though, as Berkshire Hathaway was recently outbid for global technology distributor Tech Data.

#24. China Telecommunications

- Total employees (2018): 403,014

Centered in Beijing, China Telecommunications offers mobile and internet services throughout the country. Outside of China, though, the company has a bit of a checkered history. In 2010, China Telecom was accused of hijacking notable websites around the world, and more hacking cases have popped up since.

#23. Bosch Group

- Total employees (2018): 409,881

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bosch Group set its sights beyond Germany. Following the opening of auto manufacturing facilities in Eastern Europe, Bosch moved on to Asia and became a leader in the push to make automated driving the norm. In a notable move, Bosch is heading to India to increase the number of smart homes, buildings, and factories.

#22. Home Depot

- Total employees (2018): 413,000

Home Depot missed its last quarter sales target, but the home improvement retailer remains a constant in strip malls around the country. Based in Georgia, Home Depot now has 2,200 stores in North America. Last summer, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ open support of President Donald Trump led for some to call for a boycott of Home Depot stores.

#21. China Resources

- Total employees (2018): 421,274

Unlike some other Chinese conglomerates on this list, the roots of China Resources date back to the first half of the 20th century. Today, the company is a major player in pharmaceuticals, real estate, gas, and cement, with a recent interest in funding Hong Kong tech startups.

#20. Aviation Industry Corp. of China

- Total employees (2018): 446,613

With the capability to produce defense and general aviation aircrafts, Aviation Industry Corp. of China is a leader in its field. Founded in 2008, this Beijing company began buying assets in the United States, and is making a strong push to increase its arsenal of unmanned military aircraft.

#19. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China

- Total employees (2018): 449,296

Another of China’s “Big Four” state banks, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has not been adversely affected by the government’s orders to lower loan interest rates. Founded in 1985 in Beijing, ICBC is ranked 26th on Fortune’s Global 500, and is the world’s largest bank by assets.

#18. Kroger

- Total employees (2018): 453,000

Founded in 1883 in Cincinnati, Kroger now has almost 2,800 stores in 35 states. Kroger is more than just a grocery store, though, and is known for its floral shops and gas stations, too. The company is using robots for grocery packing.

#17. Accenture

- Total employees (2018): 459,000

Accenture, the Irish consulting and strategy firm, is one of the most diverse companies on this list. Accenture works with the U.S. government, banks, automotive companies, the energy sector, public service teams, and retail industries, among others. It is expanding and has made recent purchases in France, Spain, and Sweden.

#16. China Mobile Communications

- Total employees (2018): 462,046

China Mobile was incorporated in Hong Kong, but expanded to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. China Mobile may not directly affect many cellphone users in the U.S., but they claim to be “the leading telecommunications services provider in Mainland China.” China Mobile doesn’t seem to be slowing its upward trajectory, either, as they now boast 50,000 5G base stations.

#15. Gazprom

- Total employees (2018): 466,100

Gazprom, a global energy company based in Russia, claims it holds the world’s largest natural gas reserves. With such a stockpile, Gazprom supplies fuel around the world, and is an emerging force in producing liquefied natural gas. Despite plans for expansion into China, lower export prices have caused Gazprom’s quarterly profits to drop.

#14. Jardine Matheson

- Total employees (2018): 469,000

Jardine Matheson has British roots and was incorporated in Bermuda, but is based in Hong Kong. The conglomerate runs a multitude of businesses throughout Asia, with the Mandarin Oriental hotel chain among its most recognizable holdings. Because of the amount of property Jardine owns in areas of Hong Kong where protests have taken place through much of 2019, the company has become a target of critics.

#13. Agricultural Bank of China

- Total employees (2018): 477,526

Agricultural Bank of China is another of China’s major “Big Four” banks, established in 1951. AgBank has branches throughout Asia and Europe, as well as one U.S. office in New York. While big Chinese banks continue to thrive, smaller institutions are feeling squeezed out as China’s economic growth finally seems to be slowing.

#12. Deutsche Post

- Total employees (2018): 499,018

Deutsche Post is the maven of mail in Germany, but its reach can be found worldwide thanks to its acquisition of DHL in 2002. One reason Deutsche Post continues to churn out new jobs is the creation of its mega parcel centers. The company also is keeping up with new technologies’ DHL recently released zero-emission delivery vans in the United States.

#11. Huaxia Life Insurance

- Total employees (2018): 500,000

China’s biggest insurer, Huaxia Life Insurance, is discussing a sale to Ping An, after previously shedding a 25% stake in 2017 to a financial group. The company’s headquarters are currently in Beijing, and Huaxia offers a variety of health, life, accident, pension, and other insurance.

#10. U.S. Postal Service

- Total employees (2018): 565,802

The United States Postal Service lost $8.8 billion in the fiscal year 2019, but that doesn’t stop the mail from flowing. With services like Amazon making online shopping more common, it remains to be seen if the postal service will be saved or sacrificed by the increase in internet sales.

#9. Compass Group

- Total employees (2018): 595,841

Compass is an English food service company that owns entities like Levy Restaurants, which provides meal options at professional sports stadiums and Walt Disney World. Profits are coming in higher than expected, but there are worries about Compass’ European companies and their ability to sustain themselves.

#8. Sinopec Group

- Total employees (2018): 619,151

Sinopec, a Chinese gas and oil titan, says it’s “the second-largest oil and gas producer in China.” Sinopec aims for continued growth with a planned $5.7 billion complex in south China. Recently, Sinopec banked on strong ties with Kuwaiti oil companies for expansion.

#7. Amazon

- Total employees (2018): 647,500

Amazon’s influence in changing the way Americans shop is undeniable; the company was called a “brick and mortar killer” by Forbes. From using drones for delivery to entering the grocery delivery game, Amazon stays on top of shopping trends. Not everyone is enamored of the Seattle-headquartered commerce giant; local protests prevented a planned Amazon facility from opening in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York.

#6. Volkswagen

- Total employees (2018): 664,496

Volkswagen translates to “people’s car” in English, and the German automaker has become a favorite among populations around the world. Like its rivals, Volkswagen is betting heavily on electric cars, but an industry slowdown has even affected the world’s largest automaker.

#5. Hon Hai Precision Industry

- Total employees (2018): 667,680

While many companies on this list are buttressed by centuries-old trades, Hon Hai Precision Industry of Taiwan was built with the future in mind. Also known as Foxconn, the company specializes in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and using big data. Hon Hai, does business throughout China, the United States, and Europe.

#4. State Grid

- Total employees (2018): 917,717

State Grid, the Chinese state-owned utility company, provides power to more than 1.1 billion residents. State Grid is so powerful that it can shut off power to the Philippines, thanks to its 40% stake in that nation’s leading grid corporation. Despite its influence, State Grid has struggled to create more clean energy.

#3. China Post Group

- Total employees (2018): 935,191

China Post Group is China’s state-owned postal service, but also offers housing loans and other services. China Post Group created Postal Savings Bank in 2007, and now has an estimated 500 million customers.

#2. China National Petroleum

- Total employees (2018): 1,382,401

China National Petroleum (CNPC) is one of the largest oil companies in the world, and by far is China’s largest employer. CNPC has assets and interests in 30 other countries, including a major deal with Russia’s Gazprom. A history of oil spills and corrupt executives shadow CNPC’s brand.

#1. Walmart

- Total employees (2018): 2,200,000

For five years, Walmart saw continued growth despite the rise of Amazon and other e-commerce sites. Walmart’s commitment to grocery helped, as did a cosmetic makeover to a majority of its stores. Walmart also has a growing online shopping component and recently introduced curbside pickup.

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