20 British companies are in the world's top 500

The UK still punches above its weight when it comes to the world's corporate big beasts, but we're slipping.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 20 Jul 2018

When it comes to big business, Britain traditionally punches above its weight, but is UK plc slipping down the rankings? There are now only 20 British companies in the world's top 500, down from 24 last year and 26 the year before.

The list, compiled annually by Fortune, ranks firms by revenues. Wal-mart comes top (again), with the Chinese State Grid trailing in second. The combined revenues of the top 500 came to a staggering $30tn in 2017, up from $27.7tn the year before. Total profits were up 27% to $1.9tn.

With Earth plc experiencing something of an uptick, Britain perhaps shouldn't feel so bad. The UK is in sixth place in terms of numbers of firms on the list, behind the US (126), China (111), Japan (52),  Germany (32) and France (28).

It might be tempting to ascribe Britain's relative decline to Brexit worries, but these are largely multinational companies, many of which have benefited from the fall in sterling as they earn in other currencies. Besides, the fall has been going on for at least a couple of years - there were 30 British companies on the list in 2015, including the once-dual listed Unilever. 

While Unilever's gone Dutch, British firms Old Mutual, Standard Life, AstraZeneca, National Grid and Morrisons have dropped off the list, while AngloAmerican and British American Tobacco are new entrants.

Here's the full list of British* companies in the world's top 500:

8. BP (12 in 2016). 

49. Prudential (56). 

90. HSBC (88) 

102. Tesco (92). 

143. Aviva (90) 

158. Vodafone (149).

172. Legal & General (49). 

189. Lloyds (121).

265. SSE (269).

278. Rio Tinto (316).

290. GlaxoSmithKline (273).

303. J Sainsbury (310)

318. Centrica (286).

336. Barclays (284).

377. BT (346). 

413. Compass Group (387).

449. Anglo-American (-)

453. British American Tobacco (-)

460. IAG (435). 

498. BAE Systems (452)

*It's not always straightforward to say where a company is 'from'. Does that mean where it originally comes from, where it's head office is, where it's listed, where it's incorporated, or where most of its employees are from?

Fortune has gone for where firms are headquartered. This means that a British controlled firm like Jardine Matheson technically counts as Chinese (its HQ is in Hong Kong, though it's incorporated in Bermuda...), while genuine multinationals like Accenture are technically Irish. FTSE 100 stalwart Royal Dutch Shell, if you're interested, is HQ'd in Holland. For the sake of simplicity, MT has stuck with Fortune's approach.

Image credit: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

This article was first published in July 2015.

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