Now in its 21st edition, the annual Quality of Living index compiled by human capital consultancy Mercer assesses a comprehensive range of factors in over 450 cities worldwide to arrive at its overall rankings – with Singapore the perennial top performer in Asia and the upper ranks largely dominated by cities in the DACH region: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
This year, however, Mercer has also provided a separate ranking specifically for personal safety. Overall, Luxembourg was considered the safest city in the world, while Phnom Penh was assessed as the worst of all East and Southeast Asian cities, finishing one spot below Yangon in 199th place worldwide. Singapore, again, was the highest placing city in the region, at 30th.
The poor personal safety ranking places Phnom Penh only marginally above the notoriously crime-ridden Port-au-Prince in Haiti – but while the US State Department has previously listed the crime status of Phnom Penh as critical, primarily due to bag-snatches and pick-pocketing – the Mercer assessments takes in a broader range of factors, including internal stability, law enforcement, personal freedom and freedom of the press.
“The security of the individual is informed by a wide range of factors and is constantly in flux, as the circumstances and conditions in cities and countries change year over year. These factors are crucial for multinationals to consider when sending employees abroad because they consider any concerns around the expat’s own safety and can have a significant impact on the cost of international compensation programmes,” said Mercer principal Slagin Parakatil.
Despite the concerns for personal safety, the expat population of Phnom Penh continues to boom – with unreliable government estimates of around 160,000 foreign workers in the country in total – and in the 2017 Expat Insider survey report conducted by expat platform InterNations, respondents rated Cambodia as 12th for personal happiness. Still, Phnom Penh ranked in lowly 196th on the overall quality of living index.
To compile the index, Mercer’s research considers 39 living dimensions in areas such as the political and social situation, economic landscape, public services, housing, consumer goods, education, healthcare, and natural environment – before weighting the scores according to expatriate priorities. Singapore, which has a population comprised of 40-plus percent expats, was as assessed as having the 25th highest quality of living worldwide.
Outside of Singapore, cities in Southeast Asian fared poorly on the index compared to their East Asian cousins, with Japan having five cities in the top 65 and Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen of mainland China all outranking Bangkok (133), Manila (137), Jakarta (142) and Ho Chi Minh City – perhaps due in part to chronic congestion. The second best performing Southeast Asian city after Singapore was Kuala Lumpur in 85th.
As to personal safety ratings – described as the cornerstone of stability in any city, which businesses and talent require to thrive – the majority of Southeast Asian capitals were clustered toward the bottom of the list, including Jakarta, Vientiane, Manila and Bangkok all between 165th and 170th. Hanoi, however, was just outside the top 100, which was rounded out by Kuala Lumpur.
With many multinationals said to be reviewing their manufacturing and supply chains in the wake of the ongoing Chinese-US trade tensions, the in-depth Mercer survey can serve as an invaluable guide. “Companies looking to expand overseas have a host of considerations when identifying where best to locate staff and new offices,” said Ilya Bonic, President of Mercer’s Career practice. “The key is relevant, reliable data and standardised measurement, which are essential for employers to make critical decisions.”