Intangible Resources Can Successfully Gain The Sustainable Competitive Advantage Accounting Essay

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In the accounting research literature, there are various theories that have been used by previous researchers to support their arguments in the CSR disclosure studies. Among the usual theories used are institutional theory, stakeholder theory, agency theory and others. This chapter discusses the previous literature reviewed on the combination of two theories (the resource-based view and agency theory) which are rarely used by previous studies to support their arguments in developing the hypotheses. Then, this is followed by the literature review on resource-based theory and the extent of the CSR disclosures. Lastly, the interaction effects of the family and government ownership on corporate resources and the extent of CSR disclosures are presented at the end of this chapter.

Resource-Based Theory

The resources are the most important elements in determining the success of the companies. This is because companies which have efficiently exploited their resources especially the intangible resources can successfully gain the sustainable competitive advantage. This is true especially the capability to innovate which has become a critical source of competitive advantage nowadays (Canto & Gonzalez, 1999). Besides, when companies have the capability to innovate and are able to lead their industries, this will lead to the improvement of their financial performance and profitability levels. In the end, their participation in the corporate social activities will increase due to better financial performance and profit figures.

In addition, Canto & Gonzalez (1999) also highlighted that these resources and capabilities are acquired, developed and expended by the companies over time. In order to differentiate themselves from their competitors, companies have to maintain some types of resources which are non-imitable and non-substitutable by competitors.

Barney (1999) stated that resources are most difficult to imitate when they are path dependent that is resources have a specific history which tends towards firms having highly specialised skills. Secondly, the actions needed to create them are not fully known when they are causally ambiguous, and finally some resources such as corporate reputation or firm culture are difficult to change on the short term when they are socially complex. This is their unique capabilities to bring their companies a step ahead from their competitors. However, this successfulness to lead the industry will not last forever unless they maintain a good reputation in the eyes of their customers, suppliers, bankers and society at large. This can be done by investing in CSR activities and further improving their reputation by making proper disclosures in the annual reports (Toms, 2002).

The resources can be in four forms: the intellectual property assets, organizational assets, reputational assets, and capabilities of the companies (Galbreath, 2004). This is supported by Fahy (2002) who examined the relationship of the companies' resources and the superior firm performance in the global environment. He found that the firm's specific capabilities such as the skills of the employees were the important sources of competitive advantages than the tangible and intangible assets. Besides that, he also found that the firms' specific resources were a more important source of competitive advantage than country-specific resources.

The resources term refers to the tangible and intangible resources. Ainuddin et al. (2007) have quoted that resources can be grouped into two distinct types, assets which referred to tangible resources and capabilities which referred to intangible resources (Sanchez et al., 1996; Teece et al., 1997) and they have examined four resources that fell into these two (or four?) categories: product reputation, technical expertise, business networks, and marketing expertise. They argued that the intangible rather than tangible assets are more likely to be inimitable, and therefore, more likely to be linked to performance differences.

Ainuddin et al. (2007) have further argued that the characteristics of the resource that cause the scarcity of these two types of resources are different. The tangible resources such as product reputation and business networks cannot be easily duplicated by other firms because of their unique historical conditions that have led to the development of strong relationships between the product and its consumers (product reputation) and between the firm's selling force and its business customers (business network). On the other hand, if the intangible resources can be substituted for these tangible assets to achieve a similar competitive position, then the value of the tangible resources will diminish over time.

Branco and Rodrigues (2006) found that the investments in socially responsible activities may have internal and external benefits. The internal benefits relate to developing new resources and capabilities. Meanwhile, the external benefits of corporate responsibilities are related to its effect on corporate reputation. Firms with good social responsibility reputation may improve relations with external factors. They may also attract better employees or increase the current employees' motivation, morale, commitment and loyalty to the firm, which in turn may improve the financial outcome.

Leask and Parnell (2005) stated that the companies' resources consist of three elements of capital resources which are physical, human and organisational capital resources. The first element of resources is physical capital resources which include technology, plant, equipment, geographic location and access to raw materials. The second element is human capital resources which comprise of training, experience, judgment, intelligence, relationships, insights and overall quality of managers and employees. The last element which is known as organisational capital resources are related to the operations of the organisation such as planning, controlling and organizing systems.

Coates and McDermott (2002) examined the capabilities from resource based perspective based on the case analysis at Analog Devices. Resource based view indicates that the companies gained competitive advantage through the combination of knowledge, skills and technologies whenever it was difficult for the competitors to duplicate. The authors suggested three types of competencies that provide competitive advantage for Analog Devices including technological skills, complementary assets as well as routines and capabilities. These three types of resources are categorised under tangible and intangible resources which cannot be acquired overnight. Therefore, the companies need to invest a lot of money in building these core competencies through training, research and development and other programmes to remain sustainable and lead the industry.

Moreover, the competitive advantages were viewed differently by different authors. Barrat and Oke (2007) have identified the resources which could give distinctive visibility to the supply chain linkages. Based on the resource based theory, the authors have revealed that the distinctive visibility has given a sustainable competitive advantage to the supply chain linkages as well as improved their operational performance when the resources and capabilities meet the VVRIN criteria of the resource based theory and be deployed properly whether technologically or non-technologically. The authors further argued that the difference in the levels of visibility gained by the companies depended on the manner it deployed the resources, either using technology or not. Besides, other factors may also influence the visibility level such as time spent, informal procedures, trust and commitment of the partner involved in the relationship.

Tsang (1998) has explored the motives behind the strategic alliance using resource based perspective. He found five major motives namely creation of rents, expansion of resource usage, diversification of resource usage, imitation of resources, and disposal of resources. He grouped the resources into three categories including physical resources which comprised of tangible and intangible assets, human resources which included education, training, experience and all other soft skills and organisational resources which included corporate culture, organisational structure, rules and procedures, management information system and relationship with external institutions.

Another study also examined the roles of resources in strategic alliances using resource-based theory. Das and Teng (2000) suggested four major characteristics of strategic alliances namely rationale, formation, structural preferences, and performance. Resource-based rationale underlined a value creation through pooling together and utilising valuable resources. Besides that, strategic alliances can be achieved when companies' resources have certain characteristics namely imperfect mobility, limitability and substitutability to retain their degree of heterogeneity. Different types of resources will determine the choice of four major categories of alliance structures namely equity joint ventures, minority equity alliances, bilateral contract-based alliances and unilateral contract based alliances. The authors further suggested four types of inter-partner resource alignment including supplementary, surplus, complementary, and wasteful. The combination of resource alignment will lead to alliance performance.

Wright et al. (2001) used resource-based view (RBV) to examine the influence of RBV on the strategic human resource management. The authors have found that core competencies, dynamic capabilities and knowledge-based views were related to the strategic human resource management. Companies developed core competencies when they have cumulative of competence in the portfolios through combination of skills of their human resources which have led them to outperform their competitors. Companies may employ new employees in releasing the existing employees to acquire new skills and behaviors. Thus dynamic capabilities were achieved through the process of changing the routines, products and services overtime. Knowledge-based views were the driven force to the development of organisational learning and innovation through four process namely solving problems, integrating internal knowledge, continuous experimentation and integrating external knowledge.

Another author discussed the creation of economic advantages in third world countries. Weidong (2007) examined the way countries with a lack of resources gained competitive advantage. Based on the analysis done, he found that the status of the resources would determine the competitive advantage of a country which is heterogeneity and imperfect mobility in nature. The resources need to be valuable, rare, imperfectly imitative and non-substitutable. However, since some poor countries lack natural and tangible resources, intangible resources will be the key factor to gain economic competitive advantage. The author suggested that the government has to play its role in seeking chances, integrating the resources through various ways such as human resource development, training and vocational education, taking risks, establishing rational industries structure, and formulating reasonable development strategies.

Porter (1980) and Day and Nedungadi (1994) have highlighted that companies need to organise its internal capabilities to suit their external environment. This is according to the resource-based view which requires companies to manage the resources effectively to enable them to achieve the companies' objectives and create competitive advantage. This competitive advantage is a very important element in determining the sustainability of the companies in the industry as quoted by Taghian (2008). Ray, Barney and Muhanna (2004) further added that companies have to access to and gather the resources and capabilities which are valuable in nature and inelastic in supply as quoted by Taghian (2008).

Agency theory

Agency theory has governed the relationship between the principal and agent as defined by Jensen and Meckling (1976) as "a contract under which one or more principals engage the agent to perform some service on their behalf which involves delegating some decision making authority to the agent" as quoted by Barako (2007, pg?). He further argued that in the context of a firm, the conflict between managers of the companies and shareholders is related to the access of the companies' internal information. The managers will manipulate the firm's private information to gain personal benefits.

In addition, Arshad (2008) argued that the shareholder's action not to play an active role in the management of the company will lead to the separation of ownership and control of a company which eventually gives rise to the agency problem due to the difference in the purpose of running a business. Shareholders are interested in higher share price to maximise their wealth as compared to managers who are interested in increasing their personal rewards and job security at the expense of the shareholders (Jensen and Meckling, 1976; Shleifer and Vishny, 1997) The author further quoted from previous studies that the managers' desire to remain in power, managerial risk adverse and free cash flow are the main sources of agency conflict between the shareholders and managers (Denis, 2001).

Barnea and Rubin (2006) have argued that the managers or owners of the companies will heavily invest in CSR activities to increase the CSR expenditure to exceed the firm value in order to gain their private benefits which are to get the recognition as good corporate citizens. This will lead to the conflict of interest among other companies' shareholders because high CSR expenditure will reduce the firms' values. As expected, after examining 3,000 U.S firms in 2003 they found that there were two impacts of conflict of interest between the insiders and shareholders. Firstly, the companies which had a higher CSR expenditure compared to their firms' values reduced the shareholders' value. On the other hand, the authors found that the CSR conflicts could improve the CSR activities among their corporate citizens.

In addition, Gan, Salleh and Abessi (2008) have examined the relationship between corporate governance, ownership structures and voluntary disclosure of intellectual capital for top 100 companies in Malaysia in 2006. They used the agency theory to frame their study on corporate governance because a high agency cost will force companies to voluntarily disclose more information to reduce these costs and will also attract investors to invest in their companies due to the low cost of capital as a result of higher voluntary information disclosed (Jensen and Mackling, 1976, 1983; Fama and Jensen, 1983).

Furthermore, Janggu, Joseph and Madi (2007) found that the agency conflict between managers and shareholders stated that managers of top performing companies would use external information such as the continuance of length of tenure, bonus and remunerations increments to gain personal benefits (Inchausti,1997). Besides, they further related the level of corporate social responsibility disclosure with the firms' leverage. The higher the amount of the company's debt, the more disclosure was made to satisfy the need of their long-term creditors (Malone, Fries and Jones, 1993).

This is supported by Hasnah et al. (2004) who carried out a study to assess the level of CSR disclosures in Malaysia. They argued that the conflict of interest between the principals (shareholders) and agents (managers) existed due to the interest to maximise their personal returns. Shareholders will play their roles to safeguard their investments in the companies by exercising external control to safeguard their investments. On the other hand, managers tend to disclose more information in reducing the agency costs as well as the cost of capital and at the same time will increase share liquidity (Choi & Levich, 1990). The higher level of disclosure will also affect the level of the company's transparency.

Akhtaruddin, Hossain, Hossain and Lee (2009) highlighted that in response to the agency conflict between the managers and shareholders of the companies, the managers increased the level of disclosure to reduce the agency costs as well as to comply with the comprehensive disclosure requirement imposed by the regulatory body. However, the authors suggested that the rules and regulations alone would not solve the problem without adopting the proper corporate governance structures. This effective institutional mechanism would help companies reduce the agency costs as well as improve their corporate image.

As a result, Arshad (2008) highlighted the importance of corporate governance as a monitoring role to reduce the conflict of interest between managers and shareholders. The corporate governance will increase the likelihood that managers will act in favor of the shareholders. Disclosing the information in the annual reports is one of the means to deliver the internal information to shareholders to monitor the action of the managers and the performance of their companies. Based on the information disclosed in the annual reports, shareholders can make judgments whether managers have acted according to their interests or not. However, the right judgments depend on the accurateness and reliability of the information disclosed.

Son, Walters and Kroll (2006) have conducted a study to examine the moderating effects of external monitors such as independent outside board member, institutional investors and securities analysts on the relationship between Research and Design (R & D) expenditure and firm performance. Their findings have contributed to the agency theory where they have introduced new variables into the corporate governance research which are the moderators of the form and moderators of strength.

Companies' Resources and The Extent of Corporate Social Responsibility Disclosures

Based on the prior studies that have been conducted above, the companies' resources are very valuable sources in determining the sustainable competitive advantage of the companies. This can be achieved by properly managing the intangible assets especially the capabilities of the employees. The capable employees who are equipped with the special skills and expertise will enable companies to lead the industry with the innovative products and that satisfactory services are rendered to the customers.

This is supported by Galbreath (2004) who has found that the intangible resources such as know-how and capabilities are the key to business success. Toms (2002) examined the relationship between investment in intangible resources, voluntary environmental disclosures and the creation of corporate social reputation by conducting a survey on the FTSE100 British companies. This study provided the strong support for the relationship between intangible resources and environmental disclosures.

In addition, Chin et al. (2009) examined the relationship between corporate social responsibilities and firm performance. The researchers included the R & D expenditure, consumer behaviours, business strategy and public policy as the mediating variables in their study. They found that the companies with high R & D expenditure would have a long term impact on their profitability and this override the roles of other variables in generating short term profits. This is because the R & D expenditure is one of the business strategies for the companies' sustainable development. The companies are able to produce innovative products which in turn lead to their sustainability by investing in the R & D expenditure.

Furthermore, Haron et al. (2004) found that the larger companies in Singapore were more likely to be actively involved in the CSR activities due to the availability of resources to undertake the CSR activities as compared to small companies, especially when the larger companies in a small country like Singapore are more prominent and subjected to greater scrutiny by the government, NGOs, the media, consumers and employees. However, small and medium-sized companies in Malaysia have shown their willingness to participate in the CSR activities by giving contribution in terms of donation, but financial and organisational constraints have distorted wider CSR activities.

Besides that, Worthington, Ram and Jones (2006) have examined the CSR practices among Asian small firms in the United Kingdom (UK) by looking at the social capital perspectives. 32 firms which operated in towns and cities in the UK participated in the survey while 30 firms were involved in the interviews conducted by the researchers. Based on the survey conducted, 41 percent or 13 firms claimed that their companies were socially responsible irrespective of the size, age, sector, primary purpose, or legal status of the enterprise.

In addition, Blomback and Wigren (2009) discussed the development of the CSR activities among multinational and small firms. The authors looked into four examples of the CSR activities that have been practiced such as in a small Swedish firm, a village in Kenya where entrepreneurs led fights against AIDS in South Africa, large multinational firms, a local entrepreneurship centre, a steel giant and the local hockey team. They found that, local embeddedness, corporate governance, and individual motivation were the main drivers of CSR activities regardless of the firm size.

Besides that, Vaaland and Heide (2008) highlighted some of the basic fundamentals of CSR. Among others are the CSR critical incidents, actors, activities and resources. It appears that, resources are the main important drivers behind any CSR activities. In order to carry out a CSR project, manpower and tools are required which involve money to ensure that the CSR activities are implemented successfully.

In addition, Udayasankar (2008) highlighted that firms with abundance of resources are more likely to participate in the CSR activities as compared to firms with limited resources. This is because firms with lower cash flow and low profits tend to use the imited resources to enhance their competitive advantage and are less likely to respond to pressures of the stakeholders.

Udayasankar further proposed a U-shape relationship between firm size and CSR participation where very small and very large firms are more likely to participate in CSR activities while mid-sized firms do otherwise. This is because stakeholders and social organisations need to put more pressure on the mid-sized firms which can force them to participate in the CSR activities.

UNIDO (2002) also quoted some findings on CSR and SMEs in Europe by the CERFE Group (2001). The study revealed that the SMEs in Europe tended to focus on environmental issues rather than social and economic issues. It is reflected in their policies and practices which concentrate on local issues and programmes. SMEs also give attention to one or two key CSR issues as compared to larger companies which are able to deal with broad scope of any issues. They also depend on the availability of great networking either with local or foreign countries, guarantee of improved quality and being environmental friendly or highly involved with intellectual capital before being actively involved in CSR activities.

Taghian (2008) suggested that companies need to carry out a cost-benefit analysis before engaging in any CSR activities to determine and analyse the cost involved and the benefits the companies will gain in return from the CSR activities participated. This is a very important decision to make since it requires companies to reformulate and restructure their products and rearrange their manufacturing facilities and processes and also their current business practices before engaging in any CSR activities.

In addition, Siwar (year?) examined the extent of the CSR disclosures and firm size which was proxy by the number of employees. He found that larger companies are more likely to participate in CSR activities and have highest CSR scores as compared to smaller companies. Besides, Mohamed Zain and Janggu (2006) also found the evidence that CSR disclosure has a positive relationship with companies' size which was measured by turnover and paid-up share capital. The authors examined the level of CSR disclosures among Malaysian construction companies from 1998 to 2002. This implied that the larger the turnover or paid-up share capital of construction companies, the more CSR disclosure was made.

Carmeli (2001) examined the relationship between firm performance and four profiles of core intangible resources (valuable, rare, imitable and no available substitute resources) as well as discovered the firms' perceptions of their business environment. Ten Israel-based public firms were reviewed and they found different profiles of core intangible resources adopted by high and low performance firms.

Corporate Social Responsibility Disclosures and The Interaction of Concentrated Ownership Structures

Furthermore, in addition to the competitive use of resources for the production in the economic recession, the family ownership structures of the company will be the main barrier in contributing to the money for the corporate social responsibility purposes. This is proven by Mohd Ghazali (2007) who examined the influence of ownership structures on CSR disclosures in the Malaysian companies' annual reports for 2001. He examined three different types of ownership structures which are ownership concentration, director ownership and government ownership. The companies with director ownership structures are less likely to disclose the CSR information in the annual report as compared to the Government-Linked companies. The legitimacy theory could explained that the Government-Linked Companies are set up to fulfill the economic and political agenda in the country, so that the companies are required to invest in social activities to reflect the government' responsibilities to the society.

Furthermore, Darus et al. (2009) examined the effects of regulations imposed by the Malaysian government in encouraging CSR disclosures among the 144 public listed companies as well as the influence of ownership structures on the CSR disclosures for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007. Their study provided evidence that regulatory efforts taken by the government was an important mechanism towards greater CSR disclosures. Hence, a significant association was found between government ownership and the extent of disclosures but not in family ownership companies.

Amran and Devi (2007) also further strengthened the evidence that the government had a significant influence in the extent of CSR disclosures in Malaysian public listed companies by examining 201 companies' annual reports for the years 2002 and 2003. They found that companies with high government shareholding tended to disclose more CSR information as compared to companies with low shareholding. These government-linked companies in the plantation industry tended to disclose more on environmental disclosure as their favourite disclosure theme. This was probably due to their operational activities were closely related to environment. Then, this was followed by health and safety and product disclosure.

In addition, Ying et al. (2008) studied the relationship between corporate governance mechanism and CSR disclosures among Government-Linked companies and Non-Government Linked companies. They found that the government owned companies have a significant positive association with the extent of CSR disclosures and are expected to encourage non-government owned companies to follow the lead.

Besides that, the study that has been done in China contradicted the previous study in which the authors found that the state ownership, managerial ownership and legal-person ownership companies were not related to the disclosure as compared to the blockholder ownership and foreign listing ownerships in China (Xiou and Yuan, 2007).

However, Lopez-Iturriaga et al. (2009) conducted a study in Continental European by examining the influence of ownership structures to corporate social responsibility using 1,248 firms from the main five European Union countries which were the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain from 2000 to 2004 found that the companies with the largest shareholders were negatively associated with CSR. The two types of ownership structures were examined and they found that the companies owned by institutional investors were less likely to influence the CSR activities as compared to the family owned companies.

Furthermore, Rashid and Lodh (2008) argued that the family ownership structures were found to be associated with the corporate responsibility disclosures after the imposition of the Corporate Governance Notification 2006 in Bangladesh. This study also proved that the outside directors played their roles in changing the attitudes of the family owners towards the corporate responsibility to the society.

Uhlaner et al. (2004) conducted in-depth interviews with 42 small-to-medium sized Dutch family businesses owners to study the nature of CSR among family businesses. They discovered that most of the businesses tended to have a special relationship with employees, clients and suppliers and gave support towards the development of these three important parties which would determine their sustainability. Besides that, they also maintained a special relationship with sport clubs, church, physical environment and service organisations and made CSR contributions through various means such as cash donations and sponsorship.

In addition, Abdul Rashid and Ibrahim (2002) also found that the family upbringing was ranked the number 1 factor which influenced the companies' CSR activities. This was followed by traditional beliefs and customs, common practices in industry, religious training, the conduct of the peers and superiors. School or university training seemed less likely to influence the managers in making the CSR decisions. Based on the questionnaires distributed to Malaysian companies, 198 respondents consisting of CEOs, managers, and executives responded.

Ying, Talha, Mohamed and Sallehhuddin (2008) examined the relationship between corporate governance mechanism and CSR disclosures. The authors examined 743 Malaysian public listed companies to investigate the impact of corporate governance mechanisms such as directors' duality, proportion of non-executive directors on board, proportion of independent non-executive directors, company auditor, and government linked companies on the extent of corporate social responsibility disclosures in 2003. The study revealed that the duality roles of the directors as CEO and chairman, the proportion of independent non-executive directors on the board and hiring of big-four auditors were not significant at any conventional levels. On the other hand, the proportion of non-executive directors on the board and the Government Linked companies were found to have a significant positive relationship with CSR disclosures due to the government's efforts to practice high governance standards and CSR disclosure level.

This is supported by Said et al. (2009) who also conducted a study to examine the relationship between corporate governance which included board size, board independence, duality, audit committee, ten largest shareholders, managerial ownership, foreign ownership, and government ownership with the extent of CSR disclosure among 150 Malaysian public listed companies across different industries. They found that the government ownership had a significant positive relationship with the extent of CSR disclosures at the 5 percent level. The authors discussed that the higher the companies' shares were owned by the government, the more CSR disclosures were made.

Furthermore, Siwar and Md Harizan (year?) also carried out a study on 500 companies to assess the influence of different ownerships of companies like Government-Linked companies, multinational corporations and local Malaysian organisations and small and medium-sized enterprises towards the extent of CSR disclosures in 2005. They found that Government-Linked companies contributed to CSR activities actively due to their responsibilities to the country's development.

In addition, Barnea & Rubin (2006) examined 3,000 U.S firms to investigate the CSR activities with the stakeholders' interest. This is to determine whether the managers who have the interest in companies tend to participate more in CSR activities for their own benefits. They found that the insider ownership relationship with CSR activities was negatively associated and significant at the 1 percent level. It appears that, the higher the proportion of the companies' shares owned by insiders, the less likely they were to participate in CSR activities. On the other hand, the coefficient of institutional ownership was insignificant at any level.


In conclusion, the resource-based theory argued that the intangible assets were more likely to be imitable as compared to tangible assets and linked to the performance differences; hence they were the key factors to gain competitive advantages in poor countries. In addition, the combinations of knowledge, skills and technologies which were difficult to be imitated have led them to outperform the competitors and eventually gained the sustainable competitive advantages.

On the other hand, the agency theory argued that the presence of conflict of interest between the principal (shareholder) and agent (manager) would increase the agency costs whenever managers heavily invested in CSR activities to gain personal benefits at the expense of shareholders because high CSR expenditure would reduce the firms' values. The high agency costs would force companies to voluntarily disclose more CSR information to reduce the costs and attract investors to invest due to the low cost of capital as well as to comply with the comprehensive disclosure requirement. This implied that corporate governance played an important monitoring role to reduce the conflict of interests.

Furthermore, previous studies provided evidences that larger companies were more likely to participate in CSR activities due to the availability of resources as compared to smaller companies. Besides, some studies argued that companies needed to carry out a cost-benefit analysis before engaging in any CSR activities to determine and analyse the cost involved and the benefits that companies would gain in return from the CSR activities participated.

In addition, previous literature regarding the ownership structures and the extent of the CSR disclosures disclosed that the companies with a high percentage of government ownership were more likely to invest in CSR activities and disclosures as a way to reflect government responsibilities to the societies. In contrast, the family owned companies were found to negatively be associated with the CSR activities but they increased their participation in the CSR activities after the mandatory disclosure regulation was imposed.