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I have seen a post going around on Facebook containing a list of "facts" about Walmart. Two of them seem like very large claims:

  • Wal-Mart employs 1.6 million people, is the world's largest private employer, and most speak English.
  • Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the world.

Are either of those two claims true?

Update addressing the questions in the comments

For employment let's assume this does not include any military, or non profits. My thoughts around this are 1) Militaries are more of a branch of government and not really "private", and for non-profits, where do you draw the line on employment? Are members considered employees? Only those who receive paychecks? So for simplicity, let's stick to corporations where employees are considered to be people paid for their services.

I am not 100% sure what measurement to use for largest company, but I think revenue can be a good starting point. If you feel there is a better one feel free to comment.

  • Would the Catholic church or the United States Army count as competitors for the "employs most people" crown? Both of them have over 1.6 million paid employees. Neither of them are publicly listed companies (which I realise doesn't make them private companies). Does this include companies that Walmart has taken over? Also, is the the "largest" claim by percentage or by total numbers? And numbers of what... Employees? Revenue? Profit? – Ladadadada Mar 8 '13 at 22:10
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    The largest employer part seems well defined now, but the second claim still needs clarifying: largest what? Profit, revenue, number of customers? – Ian Mar 9 '13 at 4:23
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    The typical measurement used for claims like "largest company" is Market Capitalization, a measurement by which, I'm fairly sure Apple would hold the record for the largest ever in raw dollar value. (Though, if you adjust for inflation, I suspect the old Standard Oil and some others would pull ahead.) – LessPop_MoreFizz Mar 12 '13 at 1:22
  • There is no claim that Walmart has the largest market cap. The claim would appear to be number of permanent locations and employees. – Chad Mar 12 '13 at 10:34
  • Can Wal-Mart be considered private? It's received at least $1.2 billion of government subsidies in the U.S.: walmartsubsidywatch.org – Geremia Jul 15 '16 at 18:16
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Walmart's website states:

With fiscal year 2013 sales of approximately $466 billion, Walmart employs 2.2 million associates worldwide.

Assuming that associates means employees, they're comfortably ahead of the rest of the world's private employers as per this Wikipedia table.

As for the claim that it is the largest company ever in history, it might well be true in terms of the above statistic for private employers. But it certainly is not true even right now in terms of revenue (where a couple of oil companies trump it by a relatively narrow margin) or market capitalisation (where it lags well behind Apple, for one). In terms of all of history, the pole position is apparently held by the Dutch East India Company which when adjusted for inflation would now be worth something in the range of USD 7.4 Trillion.

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    and as a percentage of employable people where they operate, surely Walmart is below some of the companies of yesteryear (eg, there's 7 billion people today; 2.2 million employees would be equivalent to ~300000 with a world population of 1 billion) – warren Mar 15 '13 at 18:30
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Wikipedia provides several lists from different sources about the corporations with the largest number of employees:

The Economist (2010) put Walmart after only the US and Chinese armies.

The BBC (2012) agreed.

Fortune (2012) excludes non-corporate employers, and has Walmart first.

So these three sources agree that Walmart is the current largest corporate employer.

Their estimates vary between 2.1 and 2.2 million employees, higher than the Facebook claim.

  • So when are Wikipedia links sufficient reference and when not? – 0xC0000022L Mar 10 '13 at 23:29
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    @0xC0000022L: Yeah, that's a fair criticism. I have linked in the original sources now, rather than deferring to Wikipedia. Thanks. – Oddthinking Mar 10 '13 at 23:42

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