Greenpeace places some of the blame for the contracts negotiated between companies and village leaders on the World Bank. The organization maintains the bank opened the door for companies to take advantage of local people by creating a system in which companies, not the state, are responsible for development projects in the areas in which they log.
"The World Bank opened a backdoor where companies feel they can go ahead and expand logging operations. … The World Bank is notorious for putting nice things on paper. … It is detached from reality in these countries. If they start a process to restart the private sector and create an environment more comfortable for the private sector, then they need to be responsible to local people," said Susanne Breitkopf, an African forestry expert at Greenpeace.
The bank, however, doesn't see it that way. Congo, it says, is a very poor, very corrupt country that is just beginning to get used to peace and stability after 50 years of civil war.
It believes that companies, provided they are properly regulated, can be a source for good, and in many places can provide better infrastructure and development opportunities than the government can.
"The bank is trying to completely change the way forestry is undertaken in Congo," Giuseppe Topa, the bank's lead forestry specialist for Congo told ABCNEWS.com
Topa said that every concession contract is being reviewed by the World Bank and those that promise sundries, like salt and beer, rather than real development aid, will be canceled. He said a moratorium on new concessions is in place, but it was important to establish regulations now before the ban is eventually lifted.
"Companies have to pay rent for land use. Before the bank's involvement you could rent an area as big as Belgium for $1,500 a year. The government multiplied that rate by more than 100 times," Topa said.
"Companies are the only units with the capacity to do work like build schools. They contribute to local development where the government doesn't have public works departments.
"In the past, companies didn't pay taxes or do social work, they just bought off local elites with money and beer and things of disproportionately low value. They didn't leave anything durable. The fact that they sometimes bring salt and cola is now just a ritual. It is symbolic, but doesn't substitute for larger responsibilities," he said.
Greenpeace lists some 20 companies, including Sodefor, Trans-M Safbois, and Danzer, that have signed "social responsibility contracts" with local chiefs.
Representatives for these companies are notoriously difficult to track down. Breitkopf said it is not uncommon for a multimillion-dollar company to have no other address than a single post office box in Europe. Calls to several companies located in Africa made by ABCNEWS.com were not returned.
Topa described some of these businesses as "shady" and even the secretary-general of the trade organization that represents them to the international community said some were "bad" when it came to meeting their social responsibilities.
"Not all companies face their social obligations 100 percent," said Hervé Bourguignon, secretary-general of the Interafrican Forest Industries Association.
"All companies are not in the same bag regarding the way they face their social obligations. However, Greenpeace very often does not see the ones who are socially responsible. … Greenpeace only goes to those companies that are bad, but many companies are actually facing their social responsibilities."