Martha Stewart has recently been lauded in the press for her behavior while in the pokey, but this column takes a look at some others that are winning fans for the way they carry themselves: On Sunday, GovernanceMetrics International, a company that monitors and rates corporations based on the quality of their corporate governance for investors, released its global governance ratings following the study of more than 3,200 countries around the world.

Thirty-four companies got "10" ratings, the highest available, after a three-pronged investigation. GovernanceMetrics researchers looked at whether or not board performance was regularly evaluated by itself or a board committee; whether board members were evaluated individually, evaluated themselves, or evaluated each other; and whether at least one board committee regularly performed self-evaluations.

Why is this important? Anyone who's read the news over the last few years knows why. Boards found to be too cozy with management have been held largely -- and rightly -- responsible for many of the high-profile corporate flameouts of their time. Given that they're responsible for stewardship and oversight, this makes perfect sense. Historically, however, many boards have operated with little scrutiny of their own activities and decisions and little discussion of their culpability for corporate failure.

There's lots of interesting stuff in the GovernanceMetrics report, and I recommend a read of the press release. The best bit? Well, it's hard not to focus on the finding that the shares of the "winning" 34 firms -- which include well-known companies such as 3M (NYSE:MMM), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), General Electric (NYSE:GE), PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), and United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) -- have (as a group) outperformed the S&P 500 over the most recent one-, three-, and five-year periods.

Is there a direct connection? I don't know, but it would be great if there was. Many American industry groups have complained about the cost of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a major and recent bit of securities legislation aimed at restoring confidence in American markets. That's understandable, particularly in the case of small companies -- which are arguably disproportionately affected by many regulations because of their relatively limited financial resources.

A few years of market outperformance might go a long way toward helping managers, not to mention investors, fret about those costs a bit less.

Good corporate citizen Colgate-Palmolive is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Take a free trial to the newsletter today to find out which other companies have been singled out as investments for the value investor.

Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison owns shares of General Electric.